Makeover of Belchertown High’s STEM program continues; Sen. Lesser visits

  • State Sen. Eric Lesser looks at Belchertown High School’s new robotics equipment, which was purchased using funding from a $100,000 state grant, along with STEM teachers Manuela LeBlanc and Clay Hennessy.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • Belchertown High School STEM teachers Manuela LeBlanc and Clay Hennessy show state Sen. Eric Lesser the school’s new laser cutter, which was purchased using funding from a $100,000 state grant. STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • State Sen. Eric Lesser speaks with a Belchertown High School class after visiting the school for an update on its STEM program.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2018 3:56:33 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Belchertown High School’s science, technology, engineering and math program is in the process of a high-tech makeover thanks to a $100,000 state grant.

In 2016, state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, secured the grant for expanding the high school’s STEM program, which the school received over the summer.

On Tuesday morning, Lesser visited the high school to speak with educators about the new equipment and other plans for the program. It was one of four scheduled stops for the senator throughout the day in Belchertown, which also included visits to the UMass Cold Spring Orchard; the “Nest,” a Belchertown SOARR (Speaking Out About Addiction & Recovery) resource center; and a MassDevelopment briefing on the future of the Belchertown State School property.

A laser cutter, three 3-D printers, robotics equipment, a dust collector, green screen technology and woodworking table saws are all among the new additions to the high school’s STEM program.

Standing in a classroom with some of the new equipment, Lesser called the project “about as good a use of taxpayer dollars as we’re ever going to find.”

“My feeling is if you have just one kid that gets inspired to enter this field and start a business locally or wants to join a company locally… it’s worth it,” Lesser said.

Manuela LeBlanc, a math teacher at Belchertown High, said that students are eager to take advantage of the new technology. The program is expected to fully launch next school year.

“Every time (students) walk by they’re trying to look in, like ‘When is that going to be done?’” LeBlanc said. “So the interest is very high. Just from last year to this year the enrollment was quite a jump.”

Although overall enrollment in the program has risen, STEM teachers Clay Hennessy and Kyle Landrio said that they are still working to encourage greater diversity among students in the program.

“We’re trying to get females and underrepresented minorities involved in computer science, because it’s such an untapped resource,” Hennessy said. “The boys outnumber the girls… It’s a huge imbalance.”

The educators are also hoping to integrate the new equipment with classes outside of the STEM program.

“We want to implement it in as many classes throughout the school as possible, not just one specific subject… whoever can come up with anything we can integrate, that’s our goal,” LeBlanc said.

Landrio, who coordinates the STEM program, said that the school has made use of nearly all of the funding. Around $300 to $600 remains, but is earmarked for robotics equipment.

“I think we accounted for all but $1.83 of (the grant),” Landrio said.

With the grant, which was written to cover equipment costs, the school was able to purchase all of the “big-ticket items,” Landrio said, although they still need to purchase furniture, which is not included with the money.

The school hopes to have most of the equipment set up by the end of the school year, according to LeBlanc.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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