Vicksburg United Way Wins $1,000 for STEAM Program

United Way
United Way committee members are pictured from left to right: Laura Howard, Danna Downing, Tonya Nash, Cindy Kole, Mike Larsen, Travis Cree in back of Superintendent Charlie Glaes and Jake Biernacki.

By Sue Moore

A prize of $1,000 was presented to the Vicksburg schools by Mike Larson, executive director of United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and Cindy Cole, Vicksburg resident and former United Way board chair, at the February school board meeting.

The United Way Community Challenge responsible for the $1,000 bonus check came from a contest between Vicksburg and Gull Lake competition to see who could increase their giving the most in 2015. The $1,000 was to come from restricted funds not included in the actual campaign, according to Larson, who championed the competitive challenge.

Each local United Way board agreed to participate, based upon its ability to increase donations. The criteria was based on percentage of new businesses contributing, increase of new individual donors, and increase in dollars raised year-over-year. “The best part of the challenge was the increased participation we had from members of the Vicksburg Community Schools staff through the efforts of Tonya Nash and many others,” Laura Howard told the board. She was chairperson of the local effort.

The school personnel had a huge increase in donations, as did the entire community, Howard said. “That’s why we were able to secure the extra $1,000 for equipment to start the Project Lead the Way/Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) offering at Indian Lake Elementary School, led by art teacher Jake Biernacki.”

This is a pilot program at Indian Lake. Biernacki took special training in STEAM over the summer to be able to lead this innovative program for students in his art classroom. As part of STEAM, the third graders are testing gliders by studying wings, the fourth grade is completing an egg drop experiment, and the fifth grade is learning more about robotics and automation, he told the board.

“The schools are our greatest partner,” Larson said. “This United Way investment in education is a pivotal part of United Way’s strategic plan in the greater Kalamazoo and Battle Creek communities.”

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