Both the Groton and Dryden Central School Districts were named recipients of the NYS Learning Technology Grant this past month, a three-year grant that brings in close to $200,000 annually to enrich computer science academic programming.
In addition, the grant provides opportunities for two teachers to gain certification in computer science education at an academic institution – in this case, that institution is Hunter College – which will be offered starting next summer.
Also, the grant allows for its recipients to develop and utilize online courses. Currently, five Groton students are enrolled in online courses through Cayuga-Onandaga BOCES on either digital photography, engineering or leadership skill development. At a board of education meeting on Oct. 4, district coordinator Billie Downs said this give the district the chance to see if it can adopt courses similar to these as its own.
“The digital photography, with the communication, media and arts they aren’t able to touch on that a lot,” Downs said. “So this is a component that enhances that a little bit.”
The funding from the grant will be used to provide opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom as well.
“Then there’s the piece in terms of connecting the classroom content to the real world,” Downs said. “We partnered with Cortland Chamber of Commerce, and they’re working on the network and how to get kids out to our local businesses to get hands-on experience. How we bring them in and talk about careers and explore those topics.”
Both school districts are coordinating together to hire a director of the grant’s initiatives who will be shared between the two of them. Downs said more information on the district’s plans for the grant funding will be made available once a director is hired.
Downs also mentioned that the district will apply for another grant to elevate its programming in the near future. Specifically, the district is going to apply for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant, a five-year, federally-funded grant worth between $50,000 and $1.2 million that is not as narrowly focused as the NYS Learning Technology Grant.
“That’s much more broad with the end goal of increasing student achievement, but that could be through traditional academic enrichment intervention, or it could be something a little bit more creative and innovative, whether it’s youth development-related, service learning,” she said. “It really runs the gamut, as long as it reinforces and supports the core academic programming.”
One of the key features of the grant is that it provides funding for education services for families of the students as well as the students themselves.
“Ideally down the road, maybe this becomes a wellness center, and we have an opportunity in-house, on campus to offer services to our students, to our families,” Downs said. “And then on the flip side, we’re getting our students, whether they are K–12 kids or our adult learners, opportunities for hands-on training and clinical lab experiences. It’s definitely a nice bridge to be able to provide both of those opportunities through a program like that.”
Downs said the hope is to work with local entities in order to have the opportunities come to fruition.
“How that happens is through our partnerships with our local organizations, higher education – talking to TC3 and talking about direct entry into the nursing program for our kids that are taking our health sciences programs here or working with other colleges’ pathways to certifications or degrees in the health sciences-related field,” she said. “Could be working with the Groton Fire Department and building this EMT program. The Advocacy Center, and having them come in and work with our students to provide informational nights that … they’re coming in and supporting, bringing awareness, students are participating, they’re sharing what they learned, and then our community gets to benefit from hearing those presentations and being a part of that, too.”