Eighth graders make robots

Eighth graders Adrianna Marshall, Maggie Carlson and Jessica Casper search through a bin of Legos building blocks for a component to add to their robot "Pumpkin," which they made in about two weeks. The 13 year olds pass the kits and software they use to construct the robots to fifth graders later in the school year. The kits are replaced by updated versions thanks to a $49,150 grant used to support the district's technology classes.

SKANEATELES | A donation to the school district of more than $70,000 from the Skaneateles Education Foundation affords local students opportunities to flourish in four areas.

During the third annual Hoedown for Education benefit Oct. 5, school board president Kathryn Carlson accepted SEF's donation.

"I've never held that much money in my hand at one time," she said. "I didn't expect it be a real check."

The money is earmarked to support four programs in each of the district's school buildings.

The $49,150 "Zooming In, Zooming Ahead" grant benefits middle- and high-school students with materials, instruction and equipment that allows them to expand research assignments.

This communication program puts the focus on multimedia production. Intending to reach into academic areas from science and journalism to art and social studies, this hands-on program widens the lens of resources of text on a page to images on a screen.

Students can dream big about their school work when they apply chromatic technology using green screen production techniques to create videos and movies, said technology teacher Scott Stagnitta.

The grant funds the purchase of a dozen Apple computers and four 50-inch screen televisions.

"This collaboration really puts our kids in a great position," Carlson said.

An unused high school classroom situated within close proximity to the middle school will require rewiring to accommodate grant-funded cameras and editing equipment. Teachers will also receive instruction on how to use the equipment.

To date, this is the largest project SEF has funded, with more than 30 individuals and corporations contributing to the nearly $50,000 grant.

"Chase Design, a world leader in marketing design and communication, will also be involved by providing mentoring of students and faculty and offering unique workshops on video and multimedia production," said Sharon Magee, SEF's executive director.

"Robotics on the Move" brings a toy box staple to the classroom to demonstrate robotics principles and possibilities.

With this $18,025 grant, kits of Lego building blocks benefit fifth- and eighth-graders who will use them and attendant software to construct computerized robots.

Lego kits purchased seven years ago, when grants from SEF and the Allyn Family Foundation first sponsored this innovative teaching tool in classrooms, will shift to fifth-grade classes to introduce them to robotics and computer programming.

"There aren't many schools in the state that have a STEM lab for fifth grade," Scott Stagnitta said.

Twenty five laptop computers will be purchased for State Street students, adding to the district's $55,000 overall worth of Lego's robotic equipment.

"This grant allows us to serve two purposes," Stagnitta said. "We'll add a little bit more advanced robotics in middle and high school and fifth graders will learn the basics of writing the computer programming code and the eighth graders will concentrate their efforts on building the actual robots.

"Skaneateles is on the cutting edge of this technology," Stagnitta said. "Eighth-grade kids are learning what kids in college are learning."

"Engineering is Elementary" acquaints kindergarten through second-grade students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. This grant aims to inspire an early passion for STEM-related studies.

A STEM laboratory already exists in Waterman School and this $4,609 grant will fund a half-time teacher's commitment to the lab and its expanded resources.

"The foundation continues to believe the humanities and language arts are important and will  continue to support non-STEM grant projects too," Magee said.

SEF approved funding that sends four Waterman reading teachers to the 24th "Literacy for All" conference. This $1,000 grant is nearly matched by the district's $972 support.

These educators will attend conference workshops covering Common Core standards, literacy coaching, guided reading and comprehension and share their knowledge with fellow district faculty.

At the Oct. 15 school board meeting, Carlson thanked the foundation, which since its inception has raised more than $150,000 in grants that directly benefit the district's schoolchildren.

"We are extremely grateful to the foundation. We do accept these grants with gratitude," the school board president said.

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Staff writer Carrie Chantler can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or email carrie.chantler@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @Skan_Chantler.