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Tech grants bolster Chelmsford schools

By Molly Loughman
mloughman@wickedlocal.com
July 10. 2014 9:34AM
Tech grants bolster Chelmsford schools
The Chelmsford Arts and Technology Fund (ATEF) recently awarded six grants for schools totaling $3,910.

This year’s grant recipients are: Devi Venugopal a technology integration specialist at McCarthy Middle School, for advanced robotics; technology integration specialist Eileen Young, for her grant for keyboard trainers; Chelmsford High School biology teachers Linda Tanini, Brian Acheson, Gordon Scott and Jason Dussault, for their grant requesting Livescribe pens; McCarthy Middle School band and chorus directors Allison Lacasse and Sean Wright, for using technology to promote music literacy; Parker Middle School technology teacher Kevin McFarland, for a 3D printer, and Center Elementary School special education teacher Erica Barrett, for touch screen computer monitors.

Before grant recipients were introduced at a recent selectmen’s meeting, ATEF Chairman Kirk Marshall expressed his gratitude for committee supporters.
"We would like to thank the generous taxpayers of Chelmsford who have donated to our fund either directly or through rounding up their tax bill. We would also like to thank those individuals who have made a contribution to our Teacher Recognition Program," said Marshall, about the program that allows current and former students, parents and interested parties to make a donation to the fund in the name of a teacher or school department employee.

Venugopal works with 60 students throughout the school year, including robotics with seventh-graders. Thanks to support from the ATEF and the district’s technology department, Venugopal and her students acquired LEGO Mindstorms in 2011. Due to technology curriculum advancements across the district, over the last three years students have improved their robotics abilities. Thanks to $750 of funding from the ATEF and aid from the district, students will soon work with the more advanced LEGO Mindstorm EV3 Robot.
"It involves students coming in twice a week, with two to three students per kit. They have traces of robots they need to build and program for different and specific tasks they have to fulfill. They start off learning the ins and outs of robots before moving onto advanced robots, which will give them more challenge and problem-solving skills at a level they can handle now," said Venugopal.
For Venugopal, ATEF provides a steppingstone to actualize innovative opportunities for students, especially during a time when science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are an educational focus.

McFarland, a technology teacher at Parker Middle School, said he is thrilled to receive the 3D printer grant. After exploring various vendors, McFarland said they’ve honed in on one company called MakerBot and its reasonably priced product, Replicator 2 3D Printer. According to McFarland, the new technology easily connects with the district’s software. Thanks to $750 in funding from the ATEF, the 3D printer will be made possible.

"It would kind of be a sweet spot for our students to get introduced to 3D printing and how it can support what students design in the computer-aided design programs we use," said McFarland, a first time ATEF award recipient.

McFarland explained he believed students could benefit by understanding what they model on the computer in 3D before replicating it as a real life product. With 3D printing, students can grasp the significance of quick prototyping and making changes on the fly. Above all, the young learners can see the value of where engineering is heading, he added.

"I think the ATEF committee can oversee many technology ideas and determine which ones are more appropriate for the times. They have an overall sense of technology in the district and where their money is best spent. And I’m glad they picked us because the 3D technology is exploding," McFarland said.

The ATEF was created by Town Meeting in 1996. Since, the committee has awarded over $70,000 in grants. The purpose of the ATEF is to provide supplemental fundingto help drive educational initiatives and projects that enhance existing CPS curriculum.
All projects that receive supplemental funding must support the mission and belief statements of CPS and be in accordance with the Chelmsford School Committee policy. Serving three-year terms, ATEF committee members include Marshall, Evelyn Thoren, Angelo Taranto, Superintendent Frank Tiano, Jeff Porzio, Beverly Barrett, Tricia Dzuris, Colleen Stansfield and Carrie Meikle.
"We rely on the teacher to kind of tell us what directions we should go. The technology plan for CPS is put together by the superintendent and director of technology… what we’d like to see is innovative way teachers can use new technology… as long as it’s not a budgeted item, then we’re able to fund a grant to help support it," said Marshall.