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St. Mary’s public school classrooms will be outfitted with 3,500 touchscreen tablets thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The grant, which was announced Wednesday afternoon by Superintendent Michael Martirano along with local and state elected leaders and Patuxent River Naval Air Station officials, was awarded to St. Mary’s public schools to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching initiatives.

The county school system was eligible because of the number of military-connected students 6,448 students or 35 percent of the total enrollment last school year.

The award is “the largest grant in the history of the school system,” Martirano said.

The majority of the grant $1.9 million will be used to buy the 3,500 touchscreen tablets, such as iPads, to be placed in 410 classrooms. School officials said all regular elementary classrooms as well as all middle and high school science classrooms will receive the tablets.

The remainder of the grant money will be used for professional development for teachers, other administrative costs and to fund two new positions a STEM project coordinator and an e-coach.

Martirano said the grant will grow the “STEM for All” initiative that aims to teach critical skills to all students, not just those in the specialized STEM academies located at Lexington Park Elementary, Spring Ridge Middle and Great Mills High schools that require students to apply.

“We have to teach young people to solve problems that haven’t even been identified yet,” Martirano said.

Forty-four Department of Defense grants were given; St. Mary’s was one of only three to receive the largest amount available of $2.5 million.

Half of the grant money is awarded in the first year with the remainder scheduled to arrive in years two and three, school officials said. The first set of interactive tablets and the two new employees will likely be in place by January.

Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said that despite an unemployment rate nationally of 7.8 percent, there are some 2 million jobs that cannot be filled because they require workers with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math.

“They’re doing it out of self-interest, for the Department of the Defense and for our country,” to help grow the number of qualified workers for national defense jobs, Bohanan said.

“We can have one of the best STEM programs not just in this state, but in the country,” Bohanan said, praising the partnerships in St. Mary’s County between different levels of government, Pax River and the private sector.

jyeatman@somdnews.com