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Former Manchester Mayor Bob Baines is a driving force behind STEAM Ahead NH, an innovative program aimed at driving educational advances in the Queen City and around the state. (RYAN O'CONNOR/Union Leader Correspondent)

Former Manchester mayor promotes 'innovative' educational program in Hooksett

HOOKSETT — Former Manchester Mayor Bob Baines was in Hooksett Wednesday night to educate residents on the STEAM Ahead NH program, for which he currently serves as director.

Baines explained to the dozen or so Hooksett parents and students who attended the informational meeting that STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) is an innovative program, which offers up to one-year of college credits to participants.

The main goal, said Baines, is to be encourage school innovation and reform, not only in Manchester, but throughout the state.

“What we’re trying to do here is not new, but it’s new to New Hampshire,” he said. “New Hampshire residents seem to be somewhat resistant to change ... Many people refer to this state as ‘old and cold’ ... people aren’t staying here. They’re going outside of New Hampshire to find success, so the ramifications of this really extend beyond high school.”

The initiative, entering its first year at Manchester West High School, has already garnered widespread support, including the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan and former Gov. John Lynch.

Baines said Lynch labeled the program one of the most significant educational initiative in Granite State history.

STEAM Ahead NH a collaborative effort between the Manchester School District, Manchester Community College and the University System of New Hampshire. Dyn and SilverTech, both Queen City-based businesses, are business partners.

Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock and SilverTech CEO Nick Soggu graduated from Manchester Wet and Manchester Memorial, respectively.

The initial plan, said Baines is to accept 75 students for the 2014-15 school year, though he said there is no cap on the admittance. Sixty-three students have already enrolled. Each will be provided an iPad and each will establish an individual learning plan.

The curriculum focus places a career pathway emphasis on allied health, computer science, engineering and performance arts.

Manchester Community College President Susan Huard and former New Hampshire Education Commissioner Mary Heath joined Baines in Hooksett to promote the program.

Huard explained that the program enables students to receive college credit at her institution, in addition to University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Southern New Hampshire University and Granite State College. Those credits, she said, are strictly attributed to the respective colleges and are easily transferable to institutions throughout the country.

“The goal of program is to help students achieve up to 30 college credits before they graduate,” said Huard. “It gives students a real feel for what it means to be in college.”

Heath explained that the program is founded on a “move on when ready” philosophy that is competency driven.

“With every meeting, I become more and more excited about the personalized nature that STEAM will offer,” she said. “What’s so exciting is that whichever pathway is chosen, much of the curriculum will be designed through the lens of that pathway ... so students will experience a very meaningful content-connected curriculum.”

Among those in attendance was Hooksett resident Will Brown.

“I thought it was terrific. I thought it was very good for the community. I think they’re trying to build in Manchester and keep students from leaving Manchester,” said Brown. “I think this is a great start, and it’s something I’m definitely interested in for my family.

“My only initial concern is they don’t have any type of (admittance) testing, because the curriculum seems quite advanced. You’re looking at calculus geometry, geography, trigonometry, a lot of math and sciences, but they said this is 21st century learning, and I think it’s terrific for the New England area.”

Baines and company have a similar presentation planned for Candia parents and students at the Henry W. Moore School at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

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