The Kutztown Area School District and the Berks County Intermediate Unit are pleased to announce the launch of the Eastern Pennsylvania Innovation Catalyst Network.

The EPIC Network is designed to be a hub of educational innovation in Berks County and Eastern Pennsylvania. Anchored in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and computer science education, the network aims to enhance instructional practice, increase opportunities, and develop a network of educational transformation.

The funding for the EPIC Network comes from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s PAsmart initiative. In a press release on Monday, February 11, Wolf announced $9.6 million in PAsmart advancing grants to enhance science and technology education in schools statewide. The EPIC Network was one of 24 applicants that were awarded advancing grants, receiving $494,368 for the project.

The goal of the EPIC Network is to ensure equitable practices and innovation is connected to and within reach of rural and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. The BCIU and KASD will serve as “satellite” sites for UPenn's Graduate School of Education’s Catalyst Center, connecting to their Experiences in Applied Computational Thinking (EXACT) and Computer Science (CS)/STEM master educators programs. These sites will target regional inequities in computer science and STEM education through four targeted areas: STEM Resource Lending Libraries – regional equipment lending centers, Catalyst Centers – for regional professional development located at the BCIU and Kutztown Area School District, Ecosystem Empowerment – utilizing master teachers to coach emerging Computer Science (CS) practitioners in the field and in their classrooms, and Camp•CS – providing experiences for all students to explore STEM/CS related career fields.

The focus of the PAsmart initiative is on workforce development. Over the next decade, seven in ten jobs in PA will require computer science skills. Therefore, PAsmart grants will help our students graduate prepared for success in our global economy.

The initiative will impact close to 70,000 students in Berks County. Of these students, 51 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 15 percent are identified as English language learners, 18 percent are receiving special education services, 49 percent of students are females, and 42 percent are identified as part of an underserved population.

"This grant will help launch a new regional network, centered in Berks County, to ignite, support, and strengthen innovative instructional practices in our schools, especially in the areas of STEM and computer science," said Dr. Scott Hand, Director of Educational Technology at the Kutztown Area School District. "The EPIC Network will be designed to bring together teachers, industry leaders, field experts, and researchers who will collaboratively help develop and infuse next generation teaching and learning into our classrooms. Working cooperatively among districts in the Eastern PA region, along with partners from university and industry, EPIC will certainly unite together our collective efforts, help students and teachers disconnected from resources, create a culture for innovation, and set Eastern PA apart as a leader in educational transformation."

The full PA.gov press release can be found at: https://www.media.pa.gov/pages/Education-details.aspx?newsid=596

The full list of PA Advancing Grants can be found on the PA Department of Education website at: https://www.education.pa.gov/Policy-Funding/SchoolGrants/PAsmart/Pages/AdvancingGrants.aspx

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