More than a dozen local organizations were awarded nearly $170,000 by the Los Lunas Facebook Data Center as part of its inaugural Community Action Grant program.
The call for applications went out last fall with the company asking for projects that would address critical community needs by putting the power of technology to use for community benefit, connecting people online or off or by improving local STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education.
The winners of $169,975 in competitive grants were announced last week and range from schools to libraries to nonprofits.
The grant application submitted by the Los Lunas Public Library demonstrated the need for STEM-based youth opportunities not just here in Valencia County, but across the nation.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics, the library’s application reads.
In 2014, nearly 28 percent of high school freshman declared an interest in a STEM-related field, but 57 percent of these students were predicted to lose their interest by the time they graduated from high school.
The $10,530.85 grant awarded to the library will support after-school programs that encourage STEM learning among area youth, said Library Director Cynthia Shetter.
“We really appreciate the support and interest in our community,” Shetter said. “We look forward to creating after-school programs to teach kids coding, robotics and technical resources that compliment what they are taught at the middle school.”
Shetter added the library will also be working with the Air Force Research Lab to bring in people from the lab to compliment the program. Los Lunas Middle School is across the street from the library and has implemented robotics into its coursework for the first time this year.
Belen Consolidated Schools received the largest grants, with $31,586.07 going to Belen High School and $29,634.08 to Belen Middle School.
The grant at the high school will support Promethean Interactive Whiteboard Technology.
BHS principal Rodney Wright said Promethean boards aren’t your typical whiteboards or chalkboards.
“These boards offer students hands-on experience in working problems, creating images,” Wright said. “It gets them up and out of their seat and involved. We’re very excited.”
The middle school will use the grant to support Arduino coding exercises for students, in partnership with New Mexico MESA Inc.
Principal Lawrence Sanchez said the middle school grant, written by BMS STEM teacher Juanita Silva, will be used to purchase a 25 station mobile lab for programming and coding projects.
“This lab will benefit about 170 kids — the 50 students in the MESA classes, as well as the students in the STEM I and II classes,” Sanchez said.
New Mexico MESA Inc. received $5,925 for computer coding starter kits and workshops in eight different schools in Valencia County, including BMS.
Sanchez said the students will use the MESA kits along with the equipment purchased through the school’s grant for coding activities and engineer builds.
“The kits are not one-time use, so they can be used over and over for multiple activities,” the principal said.
The grant will also pay for a dedicated wireless internet access point to ensure connectivity for the MESA student’s projects, ad well as a Promethean that will be used with all STEM activities.
“We are really excited. Ms. Silva has done a good job building the MESA program. It’s one of our most highly requested electives, and this will really take it to the next level,” Sanchez said.
At the Belen Public Library, a $14,600 grant will support a computer learning lab to provide basic computer skills and workforce development training to patrons of the library.
Kathleen Pickering, the library director, said the money would be used in three areas to establish the lab.
First is renovations to the space once used by the Friends of the Library to become tutoring space for one to six people.
“The grant also allows us to hire a computer coach, which is a temporary position to get our librarians the training they need for higher level computer skills so they are more comfortable with instruction,” Pickering said. “It’s kind of a train the trainer concept.”
The grant will also allow the library to invest in material promoting computer literacy and computer-based job readiness, including a one-year investment in Gale Courses, a suite of more than 300, six-week courses ranging from computer basics, like using spreadsheets to professional certifications, Pickering said.
“This lets us set up a system so that if some needs a little structure, we can assist in helping them figure out what to take and how to get through it,” she said. “We are partnering with the (Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce) so if an employer has someone they know needs training, they can get it.”
The Rio Communities Optimist Club received $3,500 to support STEM camps for Valencia County students, which will focus on hands-on experiences.
Optimist Club member Marilyn Winters said the club will hold two free STEM robotics camps this summer — a two-day camp for second- to fourth-graders and a three-day session for fifth- and sixth-graders.
“We will use LEGO WeDo kits, which are educational, and the students will be building robots and programing them,” Winters said. “The most important thing we wanted to do was make it totally free so that children who can’t afford something like a soccer camp for $100 have something to do.”
Each session will start small, she said, with 28 students. The club can apply for the grant again and depending on how the first year goes, might add a camp for middle school students.
Katherine Gallegos Elementary School received $14,800 to support computer and robotics kits for the school coding club, using code.org and girlswhocode.com curricula.
Los Lunas High School JROTC received $5,000 to support its participation in the High-Altitude Balloon Challenge and Sea Perch STEM competitions.
The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus received $13,299 to support its summer technology program.
The Valencia County Literacy Council received $13,500 to support literacy and tutoring programs in Valencia County, including basic reading and English for speakers of other languages.
The Rural Education Advancement Program was granted $15,000 to support STEM workshops and competitions at local schools throughout Valencia County.
The Explora Science Center will use its $9,600 to support 10 family STEM events for Valencia County students through the Explora Community Science program.
El Ranchito de Los Ninos received $3,000 to fund computers and IT support for high-risk children in foster care.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.