SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest philanthropy in New England focused exclusively on education, has awarded the Skowhegan School District (SAD 54) a $100,000 grant as part of its Pathways to Higher Education initiative.

The grant program aims to increase student retention and high school graduation rates, particularly among traditionally underserved students, as well as enrollments and degree attainment in higher education, according to a press release.

The 10-month Multiple Pathways planning grant will help Skowhegan schools expand the variety and quality of educational options available by expanding the settings in which students can acquire skills. Pathways can include internships, community-based programs and a blend of high school and postsecondary experiences.

“We are extremely pleased to have been selected to receive the Nellie Mae grant,” said Brent Colbry, SAD 54 superintendent, in a press release. “It provides additional resources to support our ongoing work to improve student achievement and aspirations. Additionally it provides an opportunity to partner with other schools in New England who are working diligently, as are we, to better prepare students for the new challenges that face them in this increasingly competitive global economy.”

Skowhegan intends to offer students “blended” educational programs that combine academic knowledge with the real-world skills and applications gained in career and technical education programs.

Rick Wilson, principal of Skowhegan Area High School, said in a press release he sees “a number of possibilities for linking programs across schools. For example, Somerset Regional Vocational Center’s health care careers program could be integrated with high school biology, carpentry with math, and its outdoor resources program with environmental science. These connections will not only help students see the relevance of what they’re learning, but also awaken them to new career and entrepreneurial possibilities.”

As part of this work, Skowhegan schools and the Somerset Regional Vocational Center will bring together parents, community members, and local educational and business leaders to determine how high school can be redesigned to meet the needs of today’s students. Skowhegan will also partner with the largest rural high school in Vermont —North Country Union High School — to share ideas and strategies.

Skowhegan joins four other partnerships across New England that are exploring multiple-pathway learning models: Mount Abraham Union High School and the Five Town Community Learning Center in Bristol, Vt.; Our Piece of the Pie and Opportunity High School in Hartford, Conn.; The Providence Plan and Building Fu-tures’ A New Pathway for Career and Technical Education in Providence, R.I.; and the Flanders Bay Community School District and Sumner Pathways to Higher Education Project in Sullivan.

Based on the success of the initial funding period, the partnerships will be eligible for additional funding to support the implementation of the multiple-pathways model they develop.

“The creation of multiple pathways has emerged as a promising way to address the needs of diverse learners, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, in a press release. “We’re excited to work with and learn from these five partnerships as we examine new ways to stimulate transformative change in public education systems across New England.”