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The DOJ delivers the Comey memos to Congress. Also on our rundown: More evidence that rent prices are out of reach in many markets; Wisconsin counties brace for sulfide mining; and the Earth Day focus this weekend in North Dakota is on recycling.

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WNC Has Opportunity to STEM the Tide of Slow Economy

Photo: Diagram of how the Buncombe County STEM Discovery Academy will work. Courtesy: Buncombe County Schools
Photo: Diagram of how the Buncombe County STEM Discovery Academy will work. Courtesy: Buncombe County Schools
January 16, 2014

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Proponents say it's a 21st-century approach to education. Now Buncombe County will join almost a dozen other communities in the state in creating STEM-themed high schools. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.) Last week, the State Board of Education approved the Buncombe County high school plans, which were three years in the making.

The school will employ real-world, practical approaches in its preparation of students for the workforce. However, its impact will go far beyond the individual students enrolled, according to Christy Cheek, the school system's director of career technical education.

"It's totally about the entire business community and the economy, ensuring that economic prosperity for now and in the future," Cheek said.

Cheek added that STEM schools offer opportunities to students who might not show signs of success in a traditional school, but with a hands-on approach are able to identify a career path.

Buncombe County is working closely with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce on the STEM High School plan. Cheek said Asheville's workforce is known for its willingness to repurpose itself based on economic needs, but the county can go one step farther with the new school.

"We want to do the training on the front end, so that if Mission - per se - they know they need some type of employee, we can start training those people early in the pipeline and opening up that pipeline," she explained.

The Buncombe County school will receive $5 million in lottery money for building renovations. The school has applied for operating funds from the Cooperative Innovative High School Fund, but that money must be approved by the General Assembly. Regardless, Cheek said, the school will open its doors this August.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC