SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Students at two Kanawha County high schools will be able to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) thanks to grant from the American Electric Power Foundation.

Appalachian Power Company awarded BridgeValley Community and Technical College Monday with $1.58 million for the Credits Count program at Riverside High School and Nitro High School.

The grant is the largest private contribution Appalachian Power has ever made in West Virginia. It’s also the largest private grant BridgeValley has ever received.

Chris Beam, president and chief operation officer of AEP, said it’s important for them to help fund educational opportunities in West Virginia.

“Giving back to the community, but giving back to the folks that are going to be the next generation of leaders — engineers, scientists, teachers — it’s just fundamental of who we are,” he said.

Here’s a breakdown of how the program will benefit students in Kanawha County.

BridgeValley professors plan to work with Kanawha County teachers to implement the program in schools over the next year.

“We’re going to be fitting it in their schedules and actually teaching these classes on their campuses,” said Melissa Thompson, director of the Credits Count program and professor at BridgeValley.

Nitro and Riverside were selected for the program due to their lack of STEM opportunities, Thompson said. Middle school students that plan to go to those high schools will also be exposed to the Credits Count program.

Thompson said it’s an effort to close the learning gap between high school and college.

“It’s the exposure. It’s giving them the ability to meet people that work in those fields, getting them the hands on activities that are fun and exciting when they’re younger that build on more things when they get older,” she said.

The program is voluntary. School officials said it’s an unknown how many students will participate, but it’s estimated they could reach up to 2,000 kids.

Credits Count allows students to earn college credits while still in high school.

“They have an opportunity to earn 12 college credits and also scholarships after they graduate, so this opens up doors for a lot of students,” said Valerie Harper, executive director of virtual schools for KCS.

The college credits will count toward a certificate in a STEM related career or college degree in fields that include advanced manufacturing and computer technology.

The program also includes provides advisers that can offer additional support to students to help with college readiness.

Classes will start in Fall 2018.

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