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Granting New Learning Possibilities at Sycamore Middle School

Granting New Learning Possibilities at Sycamore Middle School
Justin Hames, Jill Anderson, and Kevin Boltz accept a Community Action Grant from Meta.

Over the summer, Sycamore Middle School (SMS) was awarded a grant from the DeKalb Data Center (Meta). Kevin Boltz, a teacher of Career Technology Education, submitted the application on behalf of SMS that would eventually be selected as an inaugural recipient of Meta's Community Action Grants. Our Communications Department recently followed up with Mr. Boltz to hear how this grant initiative has taken off at the middle school this school year.

What inspired you to apply for a Community Action Grant?

Boltz: The mission of Sycamore Middle School's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) program is to inspire and cultivate innovative thinking in all students. We achieve this by fostering a student-centered learning environment that enhances 21st-century skills through an interdisciplinary and technologically enriched curriculum. Our department takes great pride in diligently adhering to this mission through our curriculum choices and the acquisition of various cutting-edge technologies. Over the past five years, we have been able to secure support from both local and federal grants, which have enabled us to enhance our technological resources significantly.

We believe that the objectives of the Meta Data Center Community Action Grant are closely aligned with our goal of expanding the reach and impact of our STEM/CTE program. Meta, as an organization, is dedicated to investing in projects that harness the potential of technology for the greater good of the community. They are committed to bridging the digital divide, both online and offline, and enhancing local STEM education. This alignment between our program's mission and Meta's goals makes us enthusiastic about the potential collaboration that can result from this partnership.

Where was the grant money the middle school received used?

Boltz: We are grateful for Meta's generous contribution of nearly $25,000 to fund our grant. These funds have played a pivotal role in elevating the learning experience for all our students by upgrading the technology utilized in our classrooms and clubs.

The grant has allowed us to acquire a range of valuable items, including:

  • Two Jet Stand-up Drill Presses for our middle school shop.
  • A new Xtool Laser Cutter for our STEM/Innovation Lab.
  • A cutting-edge Elegoo Mars 3 Resin 3D Printer for our STEM/Innovation Lab.
  • A state-of-the-art Dual Extruding Filament Printer for our STEM/Innovation Lab.
  • New hardware and software enhancements for our middle school production studio.
  • A mobile production pack, which includes high-quality cameras, tripods, and microphones.
  • A Sphero RVR+ Robotics Extension Kit for use in the STEM/Innovations Lab, G-Force, and Engineering Club.
  • A Lit Bits Classroom Inventors Wall for the STEM/Innovations Lab, G-Force, and Engineering Club.
  • Two new Convection Ovens for the Foods Sciences Lab.

These acquisitions have significantly enriched our educational offerings and empowered our students to engage with cutting-edge technology, fostering a more dynamic and innovative learning environment. Once again, we extend our gratitude to Meta for their support.

How has the impact of this Community Action Grant been observed in classrooms so far?

Boltz: Just one quarter into the utilization of our new equipment, we are already witnessing a profound impact on student learning, both within our classrooms and during our after-school clubs. 

In our 8th-grade hands-on design class, students have the opportunity to choose between TinkerCAD and Cubify Invent to craft 3D models, which are subsequently brought to life through our new resin printers. The Xtool laser cutter has complemented our existing Glowforge Pro laser cutter, offering the added advantage of laser-cutting larger objects and a rotary attachment that enables our students to engrave curved surfaces.

In our Introduction to Journalism Class and Studio Production, students have use the upgrades within the studio to write, direct, and edit a diverse array of independent projects and news broadcasts, supported by our new mobile pack. The delightful aroma of culinary creativity from our Foods Sciences Lab, where the introduction of two brand-new convection ovens has allowed us to expand the number of cooking stations. This expansion provides more opportunities for students to acquire the essential skills for healthy eating.

Our Girls Engineering Club (G-Force) has been using our new RVR robots to introduce coding and foster critical thinking among its members. It is impressive to witness the transformational impact of these tools in such a short time, and we eagerly anticipate the continued positive influence on our students' educational journey.

What are the goals of the program(s) that received this grant? Where to next?

Boltz: Our STEM/CTE department remains committed to delivering a student-centered experience that is both interdisciplinary and technologically enriched for all our middle school students. As we look ahead to future district professional development opportunities, our department will take an active role in facilitating sessions. These sessions will empower other educators to harness these tools and establish stronger content connections within their own classes.

Our department will remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering vertical articulation with the high school elective departments. This collaborative endeavor is designed to create customized pathways that guarantee Sycamore High School graduates are thoroughly prepared for their future endeavors, be it in higher education or their chosen careers. Our unwavering dedication is centered on nurturing the academic and professional growth of our students.