REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- Alabama celebrated the efforts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, educators as they improve the opportunities for military families.

The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, Team Redstone, and The Schools Foundation of Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County Schools, celebrated the accomplishments of the A+ College Readiness Education Partnership and the National Math and Science Initiative in the State of Alabama during a ceremony at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center May 31.

"Today's celebration demonstrates the State of Alabama's commitment to STEM education, military families, and the communities surrounding and serving military installations," said Lt. Gen. James H. Dickinson, USASMDC/ARSTRAT commanding general. "Talented Alabama teachers ensure all children have the chance to study and be inspired by science, technology, engineering, and math -- and have the chance to reach for the stars to gain their full potential. For this, we are very grateful.

"The Department of Defense appreciates the individuals, non-profit organizations, and non-governmental organizations which help build and maintain strong families," he added. "The strength of our nation is building on the readiness and resilience of every member of the armed forces, including the cohesive strength of a Department of Defense family. Families and children are the force behind the force, supporting service members as they focus on their mission in serving our great nation."

Dickinson said teachers who provide STEM education are the foundation and amalgamation of creativity and technical ability within the American workforce and provide our country freedom and economic prosperity.

"Freedom and economic prosperity are brought forth by America's most valuable asset and treasured resources, the people who comprise the American work force in supporting every aspect of the Department of Defense and our great nation," Dickinson said. "Our workforce is generated, mentored and highly educated and trained because of the educators, mentors and parents sitting before us."

A+ College Ready is dedicated to developing effective teachers to educate students at higher levels, and to promoting the attainment of higher education in Alabama.

During the past eight years, Alabama has quadrupled the number of students taking AP exams going from 5,327 students in 2008 to 27,817 students in 2016.

After just one year in the A+ College Ready program, 132 Alabama high schools showed an average 105 percent increase in AP qualifying scores. These efforts have resulted in Alabama ranking number one in the nation over those years in the percent increase in qualifying scores on AP math, science and English exams.

To emphasize the importance of the event, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey sent a letter saying she was grateful for the partnership with the DoD and for the investment in Alabama's military-connected schools.

"It is truly a great day when we not only are able to create additional pathways of success for our students, but we are also able to bring opportunities for our military families to continue success no matter where they reside," Ivey said in her letter. "I recognize the prospects this allows for our students whose parents serve our country."

Local leaders also talked about the importance of the day and how it is meant to ensure that the schools military connected schools across Alabama have the resources provided through A+ College Ready and the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program that have been successful in the local community.

"This is exciting because we are here to highlight the success of our three school systems as they expanded the AP program and are celebrating them because each year our improvement remains constant," said Elizabeth D. Fleming, executive director, The Schools Foundation in Huntsville, Madison and Madison County. "In my day-to-day interaction with teachers and those who have benefitted from the NMSI professional development, they continue to come to me and say 'thank you' and 'we are so excited to see more of our teachers get trained through this wonderful professional development.'

"The support our school systems receives from NMSI is great because it allows them to maintain that high level of rigor and expectations for our students to succeed in a tougher class," she added.

Students of military families, on average, attend six to nine different school systems during their K-12 school years. NMSI recognized the need to improve educational opportunities for the 2 million children of the nation's military service members. The Department of Defense partnered with NMSI and expanded its College Readiness Program to military-connected schools across the country.

"The Department of Defense has been supporting the National Math and Science Initiative for seven years now and this is the first time it has actually spread throughout an entire state," said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, director, Laboratories Office (Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Defense for Research and Engineering). "This is a real breakthrough and a highlight so I wanted celebrate with the NMSI folks today.

"This is something that we owe to military families for the service they give to the nation," he added.