In the fall of 2014, the superintendent, Matt Friedman, came to Mrs. Bridge requesting that she draft a curriculum for a middle school class that would promote STEAM and teach 21st-century problem-solving skills. During the 2014-2015 school year, Mrs. Bridge and the administration reached out to the community and parents in an effort to fund this endeavor, and the support of the community was overwhelming. They were able to raise $15,000 from parents and businesses in the community, so the school board signed off on a $5,000 budget to allow for a $20,000 budget for purchasing all equipment needed to get the Programming courses up and running. Nevertheless, a budget was not discussed or agreed upon for the future of this class.
Knowing that the programming class could not continue without proper funding, Mrs. Bridge continued to pursue grants and professional development opportunities that would provide her students engaging, hands-on activities. In 2016, a parent reached out to the middle school to share an opportunity for teachers to apply for funding through PPG Innovative Classroom Grants. After hearing of this grant opportunity, Mrs. Bridge began discussing ideas for cross-curricular collaboration with Mr. Benson, the Technology Education teacher. Mr. Benson had been meeting with science teachers to discuss a cross-curricular project called “Trout in the Classroom” and was seeking grant funding. Knowing of Mr. Benson’s affinity for project-based learning, Mrs. Bridge began discussing ideas for cross-curricular projects with Mr. Benson. Together, they began writing grants to support project-based learning.
Since 2016, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Benson have received $7,000 through the PPG Innovative Classroom Grants. Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Benson also sought additional funding to support collaborative STEAM projects in their classrooms through the Mars Planet Foundation and have been awarded over $15,000 since 2017. Mrs. Bridge also collaborated with Kara Eckert, who was the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Innovative Practices, to receive $35,000 from the PA Smart Grant. All in all, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Benson helped raise over $57,000 in 6 years to support the Programming and Technology Education courses that are being offered at Mars Area Middle School. Their passion for what they teach is evident in their desire to offer our students hands-on, real-world applications of technology that will prepare students for careers in the 21st century.