LOWELL — Leaning forward and speaking softly, three Lowell High School students used a laptop to show Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito the functions their “testbed” — a complex network of wires, gears and sensors.
“That’s fantastic,” Polito said. “This is not easy.”
Seniors Oudong Chhean and Daniel Pring and junior Andres Sanchez built the device in their Principals of Engineering course, one of four engineering classes offered by the high school, which are so popular teacher Megan Vilcans said they had to turn students away this year.
The district will soon be adding more classes through Project Lead the Way thanks to funding from the state, the One8 Foundation and Mass STEM Hub.
“We know we’ve got students who are so ready for this,” acting Lowell Superintendent Jeannine Durkin said.
Polito visited Lowell High School Thursday to announce $1.2 million in grants across 58 schools promoting STEM education.
Other recipients include Day Elementary School in Westford, North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend, Shawsheen Valley Technical High School in Billerica and three Chelmsford elementary schools.
Grants range between $7,500 and $50,000 for the schools, though a spokesperson for Mass STEM Hub, Laura Sullivan, declined to discuss the exact amount for each school, citing a complex funding system.
Administrators at Lowell Public Schools said a $50,000 grant will allow the district to expand its offerings through Project Lead the Way by adding one biomedical science class next year, eventually expanding to four new classes.
Project Lead the Way is a non-profit promoting STEM education for elementary through high school students by offering teacher training and support for “real-world learning.”
Currently over 100 students are enrolled in engineering classes introduced to the school by Project Lead the Way. Once fully implemented, 200 students will be able to enroll in biomedical science classes, according to administrators.
The grant will pay for hardware and durable equipment. University of Massachusetts Lowell is providing professional development for the teacher selected to lead these new classes.
Engineering teacher Vilcans said her classes focus on experiential learning and students participate in “externships” at local companies.
“It’s all hands-on learning,” she said. “There’s very few times where I’m actually lecturing.”
The grant funding for Chelmsford will go toward implementing 6-8 week programs for students at Center Elementary School, Harrington Elementary School and South Row Elementary. These are the first Project Lead the Way programs in the district, according to Sullivan.
Funding for Westford will also go toward starting a program for elementary students, introducing Project Lead the Way to the district.
Both North Middlesex Regional High School and Shawsheen Tech will use the funding to expand existing high school level engineering programs.
Polito praised students’ efforts during the grant presentation. She said the program allows some students to earn college credit while still in high school, encourages girls to get involved in STEM fields and increases the state’s skilled workforce.
“We’re in the talent development business,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”