Holiday flotilla gives back to Virgo’s growing STEM program

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N.C. Holiday Flotilla board members watch as Virgo students demonstrate their STEM skills. For the second consecutive year, the flotilla has donated funds to the magnet middle school. Courtesy photo.
N.C. Holiday Flotilla board members watch as Virgo students demonstrate their STEM skills. For the second consecutive year, the flotilla has donated funds to the magnet middle school. Courtesy photo.

A local Christmastime tradition has given an early gift to a fledgling educational program.

The North Carolina Holiday Flotilla recently donated $5,400 to D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) initiative.

Now in its 33rd year, the flotilla annually brings crowds of around 50,000 to Wrightsville Beach in November to see the floating parade of boats brilliantly decked out with lights.

“The flotilla is pleased to present this gift in support of economic and workforce development for our shared community. These children will be our workforce of tomorrow and we want them to be prepared,” Linda Brown, a longtime flotilla board member, said.

Each year, the flotilla—and a host of other free family activities—are made possible through corporate sponsorships from big-name area industries like CastleBranch, RSM (formerly McGladrey) and others.

Two years ago, the flotilla board added a charitable piece to the sponsorship packages, allowing donors interested in education to earmark some of their funds for Virgo’s STEM curriculum. Last year, the flotilla was able to contribute $5,500 to the cause.

Located on Nixon Street in downtown Wilmington, Virgo—then a traditional middle school–closed its doors in 2011 due to school district budget cuts. But in 2013, it reopened as a small magnet school with an aim to reach at-risk sixth- through eighth-graders in the low-income area. Since then, staff has worked to hone its focus on STEM, and the school relies heavily on outside support for many of its programs, including visual and performing arts.

As part of sweeping magnet school reforms approved by New Hanover County school board members late last year, Virgo will expand its Project Lead the Way initiative to sixth through eighth grades in 2016-17. Project Lead the Way is a national engineering program. The district also wants to strengthen the school’s central focus on robotics and computer programming through participation in eCYBERMISSION, a national robotics competition run by the U.S. Army.

“Making the transformation to a STEM-focused school requires a substantial infusion of time and financial support to facilitate purchases relating to STEM equipment…STEM training [for teachers] and incremental student exposure outside the classroom, among other items. We deeply appreciate the flotilla’s support,” Virgo principal Eric Irizarry noted.

Flotilla board members visited Virgo Wednesday to donate proceeds from last year’s event and see firsthand the impact of their support. Virgo students shared their work and demonstrated what they have learned through the focused curriculum.

“It is fascinating to see the STEM projects and hear the students share their knowledge,” Brown said. “I am impressed.”

 

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