Toyota funds 6 PLTW initiatives in Northeast Mississippi

Toyota Funds 6 PLTW Initiatives in Northeast Mississippi

PLTW recipients
First row, from left to right: Rocky Valdez, Project Lead The Way vice president of engagement for the Midwest region; Angela Quinn, Pontotoc City School District director of instruction; Stewart McMillian, Tupelo Public School District innovation program facilitator; Bethanie Humphries, Toyota training and development specialist; and Sherry Worsham, PLTW’s Mississippi director of school engagement. Back row, from left to right: TPSD Director of Communication Gregg Ellis, TPSD Superintendent Rob Picou and Elliot Mork, PLTW vice president of partnerships

February 20, 2019
Contact: Carl Smith

Students at six Northeast Mississippi elementary schools will receive dynamic learning experiences through Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curricula and professional development thanks to grants provided by the Toyota USA Foundation at Toyota Motor North America.

Pontotoc City School District’s Pontotoc and D.T. Cox elementary schools and Tupelo City School District’s Lawhon, Lawndale, Pierce Street and Rankin elementary schools will each receive $10,000 to begin PLTW programs for students and teachers through the manufacturing giant.

“Through Project Lead The Way, we’re helping create engaging learning environments in subjects ranging from robotics and the Internet of Things to chemistry, physics, energy and the environment,” said Toyota Training and Development Specialist Bethanie S. Humphries. “These programs empower students to develop in-demand skills, pursue rewarding careers, solve important challenges and contribute to global progress. We cannot wait to see what these schools are able to accomplish through these grants.”

Specifically, PLTW programs establish learning environments that focus on hands-on, problem-based education with pathways embedded in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

These learning environments also help develop the transportable skills — critical and creative thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration — employers are looking for in new hires, said Sherry Worsham, PLTW’s director of school engagement in Mississippi.

“What this does is create a foundation and a pipeline, but the possibilities are endless for these students and these schools,” said Rocky Valadez, PLTW vice president of engagement for the Midwest region. “It’s exciting to see the real intentional effort behind connecting workforce, community and education. That’s an approach that is proven, and research shows works.”

“That’s what Project Lead The Way is all about: preparing students with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in college and their careers. We do this by staying in touch with business and industry needs, and acting as a bridge between education and employment,” Worsham added.

PCSD Director of Instruction Angela Quinn said PLTW curricula will first be available for three distinct population groups — English learners; Individualized Education Program (IEP) students or students with special needs; and gifted students. Each group will have their own day with the resources, but all three populations will blend together for a joint lab day, she said.

More than 600 students will receive PLTW instruction in the future, Quinn said.

“We think what it will do is not only build skills and knowledge, but we think it will also be great for socialization,” she said. “We don’t think there’s a better way to do that than to put together these three groups. We really believe that leaders emerge here when they haven’t been able to in the regular classroom.

“To receive a grant that has a built-in framework, curriculum, supply list and so on is amazing for us,” Quinn added. “The things we were trying to piece together, they have done on a scale we could never touch.”

A similar rollout for gifted and IEP students will occur next academic year in TPSD. Specifically, district officials worked to identify the modules that would supplement the grades 3-5 science curriculum while focusing on the soft skill development.

“We believe in the transformative learning experiences that Project Lead The Way will bring to our grades 3-5 students through the engaging, hands-on classroom experiences where students are empowered to work together to develop their soft skills,” TPSD Superintendent Rob Picou said. “I am excited to see this work in action starting in the fall of 2019. We are very thankful for our local Toyota team, led by Sean Suggs. And of course, the work by Sherry Worsham of Project Lead The Way and Dana Bullard at [the Mississippi Department of Education] has been instrumental in making sure that students in Northeast Mississippi are equipped to move into the workforce.”

The grants were announced at the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s Innovative Leadership Summit Feb. 4 at Itawamba Community College’s Belden campus.

Founded in 1965, the RCU contributes to MSU’s mission as a land-grant institution to better the lives of Mississippians with a focus on improving education. In particular, the RCU benefits K-12 and higher education by developing curricula and assessments, providing training and learning opportunities for educators, researching and evaluating programs, supporting and promoting career and technical education, and leading education innovations. For more information about RCU, or follow the organization on Facebook at or on Twitter at