By Marissa Ventrelli The Ottawa Herald
The American Eagle Foundation and Kalmar donated a combined total of over $15,000 to the Ottawa High School STEAM Bus Project.
Donations were made in late 2021, but representatives from American Eagle and Kalmar were unavailable to present the checks until recently, according to OHS technology coach Lori Hower.
The American Eagle Foundation offers up to $15,000 in grants to community organizations in the cities where its distribution centers are located. This includes Hazelton, Pennsylvania, New York and Ottawa. Kalmar donated an additional $2,000, which will go toward the purchase of engineering training-related items, such as circuit boards and robotics kits. The two companies were inspired to donate to the STEAM bus after seeing it on a high school tour, OHS Principal Kelly Whittaker said.
The American Eagle Foundation responded to OHS’ full grant request for $15,000, the majority of which will go towards the STEAM bus wrap, which was created by students in the school’s graphic design classes. On March 28, the bus will be taken to Knox Signs and Graphics in Topeka to be wrapped. The whole process should take about four weeks, Hower says, and the entire STEAM bus should be complete by the end of the school year. Currently, students in OHS pathway programs are working on building the bus doors, installing cables and painting the interior. Just because the bus will be operational in the spring doesn’t mean it will be finished, Hower explained. “It’s just evolving. This gives our students the opportunity to build with this bus year after year; so right now we are at a base model, but there are opportunities for solar [power]there are opportunities for whatever our children want to bring, and we can explore with them.
The bus will serve as a mobile classroom, stopping at schools and other area locations to provide opportunities to learn about science, engineering, technology, art and math. Students in the OHS Early Childhood Development pathway will teach younger students, providing what Hower calls “the opportunity to learn a lot at all levels.” The STEAM bus has its own website, Instagram page (@steam.dream.team, if you want to follow), and has gained statewide recognition from the Kansas Department of Education. “The whole state is aware of this crazy scheme we have going on here in Ottawa,” Principal Whittaker said. “We’re very fortunate to have a good relationship with the folks at the Kansas State Department of Education. They think highly of a lot of the programs we have here in our building, and that’s a huge testament to our teachers and their drive to go above and beyond, to do more, and to create unique experiences for our students.
The STEAM bus has come a long way since its inception nearly two years ago, when Hower saw something similar at an educational conference in Texas. The COVID-19 pandemic hit soon after that lecture, but Hower and Whitaker say it didn’t hamper students’ progress on the bus too much. They initially feared the pandemic would force companies to turn inward and not be able to provide financial relief with the STEAM bus, but Whittaker says the opposite is true, as can be seen through the actions of AE and Kalmar: “It’s really humbling because these partnerships that we have with businesses in our community, they come back like they’ve never left before,” Whittaker said . “We’re just very humbled to live in a community that really sees the value of this real, personalized learning for students.”