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Martins Ferry City School District’s STEM Academy Remains Active

Photos by Robert A. DeFrank Cameron Lapinsky, left, and Dalton Barris, both juniors at Martins Ferry High School, have been involved in the district’s STEM Academy since their sophomore years. From programming and coding, they have branched out to constructing a prototype prosthetic hand. Future hands will be customized to amputees in the local area.

MARTINS FERRY — The Martins Ferry City School District’s Science Technology Engineering and Math Academy has come a long way in the past four years since its beginnings with a Qualified Zone Academy Bond loan of $1.5 million in 2015.

Today, the high school library is a center of hands-on learning where students run multiple projects using robotics, applying code and producing practical items. Bruce Hotlotz, director of the STEM Academy, noted that the district earned Academy of the Year recognition in 2017 by the National Education Foundation and second place in 2018 out of the 19 STEM Academies nationwide.

Stacey Bliss, high school librarian and adviser to the technology club, oversees a Makerspace, a collaborative workspace for students. This year, a new robotics class is being offered to students through the STEM Academy.

“That’s where we’re expanding this year,” Hotlotz said.

Bliss pointed out that the academy’s Makerspace incorporates different technologies and can be used by students independently in open-inquiry settings. The district has purchased a second 3-D printer, a Cricut vinyl cutter, and a color copier for the program.

“So they can solve a problem, they can pursue an interest, and they can make a product,” Bliss said of the students, adding that it is normal to see the machines running constantly.

The district purchased the second 3-D printer through STEM-allotted state funding of about $30,000.

“We’ve posed some challenges to the students this year,” Bliss said, adding that contests and challenges include designing and producing holiday ornaments using design software.

One of their projects used files downloaded from the website e-NABLE, allowing participants to design and construct a prosthetic hand.

“We purchased the assembly kit,” she said, noting the kit includes strings and specialized finger tips and adding that the students made other parts themselves. Through the e-NABLE organization, they can be matched with an amputee needing a hand, and the students would 3-D print one to that individual’s specifications.

“It’s one way that our equipment can be used as a service project,” Bliss said.

Cameron Lapinsky and Dalton Barris, both juniors, produced the prototype hand. They have been involved in the STEM Academy since their sophomore years. They said future hands will be customized to local amputees.

“It took awhile to make sure it all works. There’s a lot of strings that run through the hand to close it,” Lapinsky said. “The website has a lot of different hand models.”

Barris added that the process was a learning experience with no shortage of trial and error. The finished prototype took about three days to produce.

Bliss added that in-school contests such as designing holiday ornaments have attracted more student participants.

“Participation from the middle school has almost tripled,” she said, adding that about a dozen students are involved. “The 3-D printers are running all day every day.”

Hotlotz said that students move from Success Maker to the STEM Academy when they are at the ninth month of the eighth grade. More tools and projects are then available.

“We have learned a lot on how the motors function and how to program individual things,” Isaiah Saus, a senior, said. “We’ve learned how to program using blocks of programming on the computers. We’ve learned how to build a lot of different designs.”

Hotlotz said while he knows several students who have since gone into graphics, digital editing and computer repair in college, he said such initiatives as 3-D printing and robotics have only been ongoing for a few, so there is limited feedback.

“They’re getting interested in coding,” Hotlotz said. “Our coding is something we’ve just started the last couple of years, so we haven’t had any results yet as far as careers, but this is stuff we’re building on.”

“We want to give our students every opportunity,” Hotlotz said. “Hopefully the results will bear out down the road.”

Hotlotz said the QZAB loan was sufficient to finance the academy for five years, and the loans have since been discontinued.

“We’ve got one more year, and then after that we’ll decide if we want to keep going with it. We’ll have to find other ways to fund it, either through the general fund or through another grant or some loan. We do believe it’s a worthwhile project,” he said. “We just hope to have the funds to keep it going.”

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