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Offutt Air Force Base opened its gates to Bellevue students and staff, helping take them to new heights with a new program getting them advanced school credits and focused on specific areas of education.

During a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base Tuesday morning, Bellevue Public Schools took a step toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), joining a nationwide initiative and receiving a check for nearly $1.4 million.

The large check is from the National Math and Science Initiative, a program that provides advanced placement courses in schools across the United States.

During a speech at the ceremony, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the program will help students excel in science, technology, engineering and math, ultimately strengthening the state’s workforce in the future. 

“This will help us prepare that next generation to take over the jobs that we’ve got available here in our state,” Ricketts said.

Bellevue Public Schools is the first district in the state to receive this type of grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The district was purposefully picked because of the close proximity to Offutt Air Force Base and its large number of students from military families.

“Maybe we have students that are coming to us mid-year, students that are leaving mid-year, at the end of the year. It allows them to be able to take some of those challenging classes, those credits, those AP courses with them,” said Dr. Jeff Wagner, principal at Bellevue East High School.

The new program just launched with the start of the new school year and already has over 1,000 local students enrolled. While the military families initiative is a large focus, the AP classes are offered to all students in the district. 

“AP classes just give you that extra push to help you get ready for college. And that’s what I’m really in them for, is the college prep,” said Lilia Kusek, a Bellevue East High School senior. In college, Kusek wants to major in biology and become a doctor.

Organizers with the National Math and Science Initiative said they’re looking to eventually expand the program to other school districts around the Omaha metro.

The advanced placement classes provided through the National Math and Science Initiative are free for students. At the end of the school year, the students can take AP tests and get college credits if they score high enough.