$100,000 gift from Shawnee Mission Education Foundation will advance STEM, Blue Eagle, arts instruction

Shawnee Mission classrooms will be getting Vex construction and robotics kits with the help of the foundation. Photo via Vex on Facebook.
Shawnee Mission classrooms will be getting Vex construction and robotics kits with the help of the foundation. Photo via Vex on Facebook.

By Ayesha Vishnani

In time for the holidays, the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation announced that it will spend over $100,000 on STEM and art-related initiatives this upcoming school year.

“It’s the season of giving and the Foundation thought it was appropriate to fund some really great projects that we simply think our kids cannot live without,” Executive Director Kim Hinkle said at the Shawnee Mission school board meeting Monday.

The biggest initiative will cost $48,000 and will go toward buying Vex Construction kits for every third and fourth grade classroom in the district. The kits allow students to have a hands-on experience with engineering and robotics concepts and are part of the Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum. Hinkle said the Vex kits have become a popular part of STEM-related lessons in Shawnee Mission elementaries, but there was a problem.

“Kids would start a project but then the next class would come in so they wouldn’t really have time to finish what they were building, and the foundation doesn’t think that’s acceptable,” Hinkle said. “So we are purchasing 400 Vex kits so that every single third and fourth grade classroom will have all they can possibly need.”

The high school programs will also be receiving STEM equipment this upcoming year.

Through the assistance of the American Century Foundation, the foundation will also spend $24,750 on a thermal cyclers for each high school biotechnology program in the district. Thermal cyclers allow for the extraction and analysis of DNA, and are a central part of various research labs including medical and forensics.

“Our biotech students are learning using world-class research and lab skills so we believe they need world-class equipment,” Hinkle said.

Additionally, the Terracon Foundation donated $5,000 to buy a Vex Robotic kit for each high school engineering program and one for the Center for Academic Achievement. Hinkle thanked Board President Craig Denny, who has worked at Terracon for more than 40 years, for helping the foundation apply to for the grant.

“We’re very grateful to you and on a personal note, for your years of service,” Hinkle said to Denny at the meeting.

But STEM is not the only funding focus.

Hinkle said for years, artists from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have helped the district teacher’s with implementing art concepts within the classroom. Although Johnson County Community College has financed the program for the past several years, Hinkle said for the first time, the foundation will be helping support the $22,320 initiative.

Equipment is also on the way for students gearing up for careers in law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical response, Hinkle said. First National First National Bank donated $5,000 for equipment to support the Project Blue Eagle program, the law and public safety program for high school students.

Hinkle said she was proud of the foundation’s ability to support the board’s educational priorities for students.

“It’s about a $100,000 holiday gift for you, and I’m pretty excited,” Hinkle said. “So thank you very much for allowing us the opportunity to be your partner. We’re thrilled.”

Shawnee Mission biotech students at every high school will have access to a thermal cycler for DNA research thanks to funds from the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation.
Shawnee Mission biotech students at every high school will have access to a thermal cycler for DNA research thanks to funds from the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation.