Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts is the newest school in the Muscogee County School District, but even this state-of-the-art facility has struggled to provide its students with enough modern equipment for science, technology, engineering and math. So the inaugural $5,000 STEM Education Grant from Pratt & Whitney, announced Monday, is expected to be put to good use.
The grant has paid for 10 iPads and cases with Apple Care warranties, 20 Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets and three-year licenses for the mobile devices to allow them to get apps through MCSD’s Volume Purchase Program.
A few months ago, Tom Bode, general manager of Pratt & Whitney’s jet engine overhaul center in Columbus, contacted Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation director Marquette McKnight. Bode asked McKnight whether MEEF could find an appropriate recipient for this grant.
McKnight called Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis, and they selected “just the right teacher to implement this grant,” she said.
That teacher is Oliver Ellis. He was among the three finalists for MCSD’s Teacher of the Year award in 2015, when he taught seventh-grade science at Fort Middle School. He now teaches at Rainey-McCullers, which educates students in grades 6-10 this year and will add 11th grade next year and 12th grade the following year. Ellis also is one of the MCSD teachers MEEF has funded for a summer education program at Harvard University.
“He lives and breathes teaching,” McKnight told the Ledger-Enquirer. “He’s enthusiastic about it, and he’s engaged all the time with making learning interactive and meaningful for his kids.”
Too often at Rainey-McCullers, Ellis said during the announcement, another class is using the computer lab, so he has had to rely on textbooks to teach his lessons.
“Textbooks are very limiting, based on who’s writing it and what’s actually in there,” he said. “With this (technology) right here, our students have access to the entire collection of human knowledge at any point.”
STEM is STEAM at Rainey-McCullers, adding the arts to science, technology, engineering and math. So in Ellis’ classroom, that means students have done interpretative dances about the Big Bang Theory and have written poems about the Earth’s layers.
“That’s why this is such a wonderful bonus to us,” Ellis told the MCSD, MEEF and Pratt & Whitney officials gathered in his classroom, “because now I can show them anything I want to show them. … We can’t thank you enough.”
Pratt & Whitney has been a longtime supporter of MCSD’s Teacher of the Year program, which MEEF administers. The company also is a Partner in Education with three MCSD schools, supports robotics competitions and conducts a high school internship program, which has turned into jobs at Pratt & Whitney for more than 40 of the 70-plus participants, Bode said.
“We know, to develop the next generation of workers that we need here in Columbus for Pratt & Whitney, we need to have STEM education,” Bode said.
Lewis thanked Pratt & Whitney and MEEF for the grant.
“Both MEEF and Pratt & Whitney, along with other partners in the community, do far more than we otherwise do by ourselves.” he said. “This grant is further evidence of that support.”
Lewis also thanked Ellis for incorporating technology in his lessons and preparing students for the workforce.
“Technology like these iPads, this is the future,” Ellis said. “We want our students to become excellent workers in the workforce and have their own businesses, start their own businesses, be a good part of your business. And that really starts with technology, because that’s where it’s all moving to.”
After the presentation, Bode told the Ledger-Enquirer that Pratt & Whitney intends for this donation to be the first of an annual gift through MEEF. They will invite teachers to submit proposals for STEM projects that could be funded by the grant, and MEEF will select the winner, he said.