State grant expands environmental, life science learning at Pioneer

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 04-10-2024 10:32 AM

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School students will soon have new opportunities to explore environmental and life sciences thanks to funding from a state Innovation Career Pathways grant.

Beginning in September, the school will begin offering technical and advanced courses for students in the environmental and life science fields, as the district continues to leverage its campus full of natural resources. The grant provides $75,000 for the first year to kick-start the program, followed by an additional $50,000 for the next four years.

“A lot of our students are interested in attending a two-year or four-year college. … This is a better way to serve the students we have in the community,” said Pioneer Dean of Students Scott Freniere, adding that programs like these can serve as a “beacon” to draw families to the district. “It’s another way to evolve ourselves.”

The Innovation Career Pathways program allows students to participate in work-based, applied learning experiences in high-demand industries, such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care, business, and environmental and life sciences. Through the program, schools partner with local businesses to also provide hands-on internships within the community, which in turn provide students with the most authentic look possible at their chosen industry.

Once this new round of programming begins in the fall, Innovation Career Pathways will be offered in about 25% of eligible high schools across Massachusetts and there will be about 8,000 students enrolled in one of 226 pathways in nearly 100 high schools, according to the state.

“We want to transform the traditional high school experience, and expanding Innovation Career Pathways is one key way we are working to do just that,” Massachusetts Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler said in a statement. “I am excited that the program will reach nearly a quarter of all eligible high schools across Massachusetts as we work to reimagine high school, increasing student engagement and creating new opportunities for them to find their own paths to successful futures.”

At Pioneer, students will have the opportunity to take environmental and life science classes, including an applied scientific research course, which tie into recent initiatives launched by the school aiming to get kids outside.

At the middle and high school level, the district has added an environmental educator position and students have launched the Pioneer Land Stewardship Club. At the two elementary schools, the district has been pushing to integrate outdoor education opportunities in an effort to connect children to the environment around them.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Charlemont planners approve special permit for Hinata Mountainside Resort
Fire at Rainbow Motel in Whately leaves 17 without a home
$338K fraud drains town coffers in Orange
Hotfire Bar and Grill to open Memorial Day weekend in Shelburne Falls
Greenfield residents allege sound and odor issues from candle, cannabis businesses
Inaugural book festival looks to unite Stoneleigh-Burnham School with broader community

Freniere said the addition of the Innovation Career Pathways program makes perfect sense with everything else the district has been working on and there has been a growing interest in environmental topics in the school. Even with the school’s relatively small enrollment, he noted it already runs two Advanced Placement (AP) environment classes.

“It went hand in hand with the initiatives we have with getting kids outside,” he said. “It’s a perfect mold for what we want to do.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.