Donation gets STEAM rolling

Boothbay Region High School will get over $84,000 in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) equipment thanks to a donation from Paul Coulombe through Boothbay Region Education Foundation. The gift is part of over $128,000 Coulombe donated to enhance kindergarten through twelfth grade STEAM education.

Gifted and Talented director and science teacher Emily Higgins, engineering teacher Chip Schwehm, math teacher Ben Powell and science teacher Chris Liberti were among the many teachers from BRHS and Boothbay Region Elementary School who compiled the wish list which includes a rotary attachment for a new CNC router, three new 3D printers and filtration systems, 30 fully equipped laptops for computer aided design (CAD) programs, 12 new Vex robots, 11 upgraded sensors and parts for robots, manual mill, thermal cycler, two FlashGel electrophoresis systems with cameras, four single-well and double-well Lonza gel DNA cartridges, two digital micropipettes, white light illuminator, platform rocker, freezer, 5500 lumen projector and outfitting and funds to build a makerspace in part of the BRHS basement cafeteria.

The teachers said they still can barely comprehend Coulombe’s generosity and the breadth of STEAM capabilities the Community School District will have. BRHS will have the capability of and maybe the upper hand on any STEAM program in the state, said Powell, whose most coveted item on the list is the rotary attachment for the laser cutter so it can work three-dimensionally.

“It really can't be overstated how incredibly generous this was,” said Powell. “It literally blew my mind when I saw that they were going to give us this much money for all the STEAM stuff. It's crazy – it's so cool – I'm so excited for us and I'm so excited for the kids.”

Powell said because BRES already has 3D printers and will get a new laser cutter with nearly $45,000 in funds from Coulombe, BRHS will have incoming freshmen already been exposed to CAD and other knowledge. Powell will be incorporating the 3D printers and laptops into his CAD class and potentially other areas while Schwehm will use the laptops to segue rising freshmen in his intro to engineering class.

“Every kid in the building will have experience with CAD and that should grease the way to use some of these other amazing tools we now have,” said Schwehm. “That's key: Everybody needs to be able to draw a little bit.”

The teachers said the laptops and makerspace will be central to just about everything STEAM related, especially Powell’s CAD class, Liberti’s robotics class, Schwehm’s engineering and shop classes and Higgins’ many gifted and talented uses and support of other programs. Said Schwehm, “We're going to have another classroom that's clean, it'll be set up with computers, it'll house Chris's robotics class and the best part of all, I think, is it allows other teachers to come in and occupy the shop. So, if I've got a class going, somebody can come in and use the equipment … It'll allow the kids to do more things and probably the biggest thing of all … we can keep all the things we have already and we're not losing the more well-rounded aspect of the space.”

The new robotics equipment will keep the program current with new developments, said Liberti. Moving to the makerspace will free up the computer lab to other classes and the new fleet of robots will bring more students into the fold, he said. “A lot of kids, with the way their schedules fall or by the time they realize they have interest, might do this once, so they're trying to learn in one semester how to design this thing, how to build it, how to program it, how to troubleshoot it … (Now), that baseline knowledge is something more kids can come into robotics with so they can then go that much further.”

Higgins said even teachers outside the STEAM program are finding more uses and relevance to the equipment. “We're not just going to use these things each in our little spots, eventually we will be using them together … The timing I think is really key where the technology is now enough out in the community and in the world that it's easier to see how you can fit it into your classes.”

Liberti said much of the equipment would have taken years to get via the school budget, even with a historically hardworking administration and generous school board. “Our school and our community was supporting a shop space and supporting that instruction when many others weren't … I don't think the future is just high-tech either, I think it's the marriage of the two and the support we've had historically is what's allowing us to do that.”

Said Higgins, “Our high school is regularly rated one of the top high schools in Maine and the pandemic has brought us even more students. I think this adds to the tremendous things that this high school offers. The pre-K through 12 programming that we already have will (be enhanced) with this gift and further enables us to nurture 21st century-literate citizens.”

- Reprinted from the Boothbay Register