Solar kits, a 3D printer and chicken incubating supplies are among the items the Waupaca Breakfast Rotary Club funded this school year through its Rotary Education Grant Program.
This fall, the club provided $10,145 in grants to the Waupaca School District. In addition, the club also gave Waupaca High School $500 for the Rube Goldberg competition.
The 2014-15 school year marks the fifth year of the Rotary Education Grant Program.
The program began in 2010. Since then, the local club gave the school district a total of $51,470 in grants.
“The district certainly appreciates the opportunities the Waupaca Breakfast Rotary Club gives our teachers to be creative in their proposals and to teach with materials and programs that wouldn’t normally be available to them through the district budget,” said District Administrator David Poeschl.
Wes Klages, the club’s secretary and committee chairman of the program, explained how the grant program came to be.
The club adopted WHS’s Class of 2009 when the students were in kindergarten and interacted with them on an annual basis.
After the class graduated, Rotary members wondered how they could stay connected to the schools and also get more students interested in science.
“We came up with the Education Grant Program,” he said.
Teachers propose ideas for their classrooms, and the principals sign off on them.
“It fits because our fundamental mission is education,” Klages said. “It naturally evolved from there.”
The club looks for projects that enhance studies in math, science, reading, English, technical skills and other academic areas.
It also likes projects which are creative, innovative and allow students to develop new skills and experiences.
The club provides funds for the elementary, middle and high schools.
“About 30 percent of what we raise goes toward this program,” Klages said. “The other big thing we fund are the Rotary exchange students.”
Each fall, teachers fill out grant applications.
“They tell what the project is, the number of students involved, the goal. And, we want them to evaluate the results and give feedback,” he said. “Sometimes, we want them to come back and give a presentation at the meeting.”
Poeschl said, “Inviting teachers and students back to Rotary Club meetings to demonstrate how the funds were used creates a unique connection between the school and Rotary Club members.”
Klages said the club usually gets twice as many requests as it can fund.
A committee of seven reviews and prioritizes the requests.
“Our focus,” he said, “are projects in the classroom – something students can touch.”
Once the committee makes its decision, it goes before the Rotary Board for its approval.
Brian Ruplinger, a WHS science teacher, appreciates the club and its Education Grant Program.
“They have supported the Rube Goldberg project every year, plus they have supported STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) projects I have submitted.
“The Rube Goldberg project, along with other STEM projects, allows the students to do hands-on problem solving, and they are able to make the connection between the theory of our subject and the practical application.
“Science topics can be complicated and abstract, and STEM projects really help bring out the student curiosity and motivate them to understand the subject,” he said.
Mike Waldschmidt, the technology education teacher at WMS, has also received grants from the club.
“The Waupaca Rotary has graciously given many updated learning opportunities to my middle school Technology Education students. This year’s grant has allowed me to purchase a mini 3D printer to showcase and demonstrate the technology of the future. Printing at the middle school will drive our STEAM goals to new heights (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). 3D printers can be used to create sculpted objects and pieces,” he said.
Becky Liegl, a fourth-grade teacher at Waupaca Learning Center, said the Rotary grant allowed her to purchase a state of the art incubator, humidity pump and Ovascope (a device that allows them to see the developing embryo inside an egg).
“Last year we incubated 21 viable eggs with an incubator that I borrowed from Mr. (Bob) Welch at the middle school. Of those 21 eggs, only three developed correctly and emerged as live chicks,” she said.
She realized her classroom temperature fluctuated greatly.
The styrofoam incubator she used last school year allowed the developing chicks to reach the one, two or three-week mark and then cease to develop and become viable, Liegl said.
“This incubator has a more precise thermometer and heater and an alarm that indicates when the temperature moves out of the ideal range. The hatch rate will be much higher, which means less conversation about the death of the embryos and more focus on more chicks,” she said. “This incubator will also help us better meet the life science core ideas outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. Hatching chicks is an amazing experience that many students will not ever have a chance to learn from. This activity will offer us a way to better meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce by creating inquiry based opportunities to learn.”
Klages said the grants inspire both teachers and students, and he hopes other Rotary clubs start similar programs in their communities.
“After five years, and over $50,000 of grant monies, it has become evident the program works to improve student learning in some very creative ways,” said Poeschl.