PREMONT, Texas — On Thursday, Premont Independent School District was named one of five finalists by the United States Department of Education for its Rural Tech Project program.
As a finalist, the district will receive a $100,000 grant towards the program, and compete against schools from California, Kentucky, Michigan, and Virginia for another $100,000 grant.
“It’s great recognition for the work our people and our kids have done. It’s an affirmation of our programming, that we’re able to offer such a wide menu of opportunities for kids that go to a rural high school,” said Premont superintendent Steve VanMatre.
The Premont Rural Tech Project allows students to receive hands-on learning in a multitude of different educational areas, including STEM, teaching, the medical field, and technical skills. Premont teams up with Brooks County ISD and Freer ISD to allow its students the wide array of topics to study.
“We want to expose them to any and all opportunities that students across the country would have,” said Donita Powell, the district’s Director of Technology.
Just five years ago, the school district was in danger of closing down. Enrollment numbers were low, and the district was facing financial troubles. However, now it is being recognized as one of the top rural school districts in the nation.
“It’s thrilling, I can’t tell you how satisfying it is,” VanMatre said. “There is a reason that Premont ISD’s enrollment has increased 45% in the past two years, and that reason is we have really good staff, we have a supportive community, and we have really good people and kids that take advantage of these programs. When you put that together, it gets people’s attention.”
Not only will being named a finalist bring the school district more money to put towards the programs it offers its students, but it will also allow it to work with the Department of Education, and the other finalist districts, to help improve the experience of its students.
“We get expertise, technical assistance from the Department of Education, who will be helping the I’ve districts. At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s a winner and who’s a loser, it’s what can we do for the kids. So, we don’t see the school district in Virginia as a competitor, we see them as a partner,” VanMatre said.
One student who benefits from the Rural Tech Program in Premont is junior Makayla Rodriguez. Rodriguez participates in the medical program.
“As they were explaining this program, it was very interesting, and I wanted to be a part of that, because I do want to become something in the medical field whenever I get older,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez travels to Freer twice a week for the program. On Friday, she took a test to get her EKG certification, which is one of many certifications she will earn through the medical program. She also hopes to earn an Associate’s Degree before she graduates high school.
“It takes a lot of work. I have done many things to get through this. Studying, late nights, and it just means a lot just being able to graduate with an Associate’s so people can see the things we’re able to accomplish,” Rodriguez said.
Lilly Rodriguez is the Parent Liaison for Premont ISD, and Makayla’s mother. She is grateful Makayla and other Premont students have the opportunities they are given by the district.
“Listening to her talk about it, realizing everything she has learned, it’s just so amazing to see, and makes us very proud,” she said. “The school district here in Premont has endless opportunities for our students, and knowing that my daughter is going to be taking advantage of these opportunities, it’s just an amazing thing.”
Not only does the Rural Tech Program allow students to study things they are passionate about, and preparing them for their future, it also allows students to discover exactly what it is that they’re passionate about.
“It just prepares them for their future, gives them a chance to see what they want to be when they grow up,” Lilly Rodriguez said.
Now, Premont will draft, execute, and refine its program over the next two-and-a-half years to compete with the four other finalist districts for the second $100,000 grant. In September 2023, a winner will be chosen.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity for Premont Collegiate High School students,” Powell said.