For a third time, local farmers nominated El Campo High School’s biotechnology program for a national grant supporting rural schools with strong STEM programs, which will be awarded next week.

The ECHS program will receive a $15,000 grant from the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program, sponsored by the Bayer Fund. With this grant, more equipment will be purchased for the biotechnology courses, including documenting systems to help students better record their lab findings.

“Right now, there is a big push around biotechnology because of COVID-19,” biotechnology teacher Sarah Eder said. “One of the major ways it will be useful is in understanding what it takes to make a vaccine and how the COVID-19 test works.”

The school will be receiving a check on Sept. 22 at the monthly El Campo ISD school board meeting in front of local farmers who nominated the school for the grant.

ECHS has received $20,000 total in previous years under this program, and the funds were used to purchase lab equipment for students to use.

“I am really excited to be expanding the biotechnology program and grateful to the farmers who nominated our district to make receiving this grant possible,” Eder said.

Farmers across the U.S. are annually given the opportunity to nominate local public school districts for the program. Nominated schools then submit an application and grant proposal for their eligible STEM program, which is reviewed in multiple rounds before a special council selects the winners.

In previous years, AFGRE grants were awarded at $10,000, but this year the amount was bumped to $15,000. More than $20 million has been awarded to rural school districts since the program was created in 2011, according to a Bayer Fund news release.

Three years ago, Eder approached El Campo ISD administrators about starting a biotech program at ECHS. Using the school’s first AFGRE grant, a one course biotech program was created.

This year, an upper level Biotechnology 2 course was added.

“They are great courses for students because they look at all the ways biotechnology impacts us in our daily lives,” Eder said. “Biotechnology is also part of agriculture. (It is used) to make better crops that produce higher yields and are resistant to pests and herbicides.”

Eder teaches both biotech courses at ECHS. There are three periods of Biotech 1 with about 50 students enrolled and one period of Biotech 2 with nine students.

“The wonderful thing about our biotechnology class is it’s a hands-on course, and we spend the majority of our time in the lab,” Eder said.

The Bayer Fund is a branch of the Bayer Corporation, the company behind the famed aspirin. In 2019, $5.16 million was given through the fund to support STEM programs at 787 U.S. schools, according to the company’s website.

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