SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Sullivan East Middle School will welcome the new school year with news of the expansion of its career and technical education program.

CTE coordinator with Sullivan County Schools Debbie Madgett says the district has received government money from the Innovative School Model Grant. She says the goal is to transform their middle and high schools to foster career readiness.

Each high school has received $1 million and the middle schools have received $500,000. Madgett says Sullivan East Middle School is the first project on their list.

The STEM robotics program at Sullivan East Middle has gained a lot of traction since it started seven years ago, and they are quickly growing out of their classroom.

“The interest level is so large within our community that we can offer it to more students,” said CTE STEM robotics instructor at Sullivan East Middle School Margaret Trent. “Last year, I was able to house it with 36 students in this small room, so if we have a larger room, the idea is maybe we could double that.”

The school plans to use the government grant money to expand the classroom out to the school’s front porch.

“The STEM will go out into the outdoor porch and that will be enclosed,” said Madgett. “It will be a glassed in area.”

Then, Madgett says the existing classroom will house the career exploration class.

School leaders say this expansion is important for a program that allows students to develop soft skills that they can use in their careers.

“Middle school is no longer a pass-through. It is a gateway,” said Sullivan East Middle School principal Sheri Nelson.

“[The students are] learning a large group of skills,” said Trent. “As middle schoolers being able to do an interview, confidently and professionally, is a huge skill that a lot of high school students don’t have so they’re getting the advantage of that.”

The robotics program plans to hold a signature competition at Bristol Motor Speedway from Feb. 9-10 next year. Trent says it will be the first signature event in East Tennessee.

Sixty-four teams from around the world will compete in the event. School leaders say this will give students the opportunity to meet different people from around the world who share the same interests.

Trent says this event is in need of sponsors. You can get in contact with her by contacting the school.