Boost for STEM

ALMONT — Almont Schools’ STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programming has received a shot in the arm via a generous donation from two anonymous donors.

While not divulging names, Almont Middle School Principal Kim VonHiltmayer said the donation totaled $30,813 and was presented by local business L&L Products.

“I can only reveal that the gift is from a 1949 Almont High School alumni, and his daughter, who is a Romeo High School graduate.

“This donation represents a significant boost for our STEM programs,” said VonHiltmayer. “These funds will be distributed district wide (K-12), so each of our schools will benefit.”

She pointed out that the gift can be applied to the district’s “Project Lead the Way” (PLTW) initiative, a specific fund to benefit Almont Schools’ CAD, Robotics, design and modeling, engineering and biomedical programs.

VonHiltmayer noted that funding for such programs is very costly, making the recent donation that much more valuable for Almont Schools.

Almont High School student Mark Camaj is shown loading samples into agarose gel, a substance used in the study of biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics and chemistry.

As an example of the programming’s cost, just the participating fees amounted to about $5,000.

“These funds are particularly significant to our district,” VonHiltmayer added. “They will help us sustain this very important programming for our students.”

School officials report that the grant funds will be divided among the district’s three schools based on need, with about $7,000 going to STEM programming at Orchard Primary School; $14,000 to the middle school and $10,000 to the high school.

Each school was required to submit a “needs list” to L&L, allowing the donors to determine the levels of financial support.

Almont High School science teacher John Bacci said about 100 of his engineering and design students will be direct beneficiaries of the funding.

He noted that Almont High School began offering an “Introduction to Engineering and Design” class two years ago; and this year the school has added a “Principles of Engineering” class, which he teaches.

“The kids are really liking these classes,” said Bacci. “Interest is growing and we now have two full sections of students participating.

“By offering these classes, our students have the opportunity to test the waters and gauge their interest levels,” he continued. “Should they choose to pursue these fields in college or as a career, they will already have an excellent knowledge base.”

Though Bacci does not know the anonymous donor(s), he is thankful for all those who financially support programs integral to educating today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs.

“From all of us at Almont Schools, I want to say thank you to L&L Products and to the generous donors,” Bacci said. “We are very grateful for their support.”

Fellow science teacher Kris Rohrbeck teaches the district’s “biomedical” program, which will also benefit from the donation.

“This year’s grant from L&L Products is going to pay for our high school participation fees for our PLTW Engineering and Biomedical programs, while supplying all of our consumable materials for both programs,” said Rohrbeck.

Rohrbeck noted that L&L has also committed funds that will allow high school science teachers to train and learn the new “Next Generation Science Standards.”

“Those standards will guide our science curriculum from grades K-12 going forward,” she said. “Science is the subject that our district’s ‘curriculum council’ has chosen to study for K-12 alignment over the next 2-3 years. Training in the new standards will be critical to our success.”

Rohrbeck expressed enthusiasm for the district’s commitment to the PLTW initiative and to science programming in general.

She offered some insight into the primary challenge students taking her Principles of Biomedical course are facing this school year.

“The course is designed around a case study involving the mysterious death of a 38-year-old woman,” Rohrbeck explained. “Students work collaboratively to analyze and understand the decedent’s health and family history through the (school) year to determine her cause of death. “Our students will conduct sophisticated, real-life, biomedical lab experiments, such as hematocrit and DNA electrophoresis, to build an understanding of the relationship between body system physiology and abnormal pathology related to disease.”

Rohrbeck said students will study health issues facing their own and fellow students’ family members. “The course teaches students about the human anatomy and physiology of each malady,” she said, “but also how to proactively prevent illness and disease through positive, deliberate choices.” Rohrbeck said the class introduces students to a host of health and medical professions.

“Many of our graduating seniors pursue studies in the health and medical professions,” she noted, “so this course is a great fit for our student career aspirations.”

Almont Schools Supt. Dr. William Kalmar also offered thanks to the donors, along with kudos to (Middle School Principal) Kim VonHiltmayer for her efforts on behalf of the entire district.

“We are grateful for the generosity of L&L in providing the district yet another very generous grant,” said Kalmar. “I would also like to thank Kim VonHiltmayer for taking the lead in developing our grant proposal. “Having been with the Almont district for almost a year now,” he said, “it is impressive to view the comprehensive K-12 approach Almont has developed in the field of STEM education,” said Kalmar. “This new grant will help to insure the sustainability of these efforts.”

Tri-City Times