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Kulm school gets more grants for tech lab

Kulm Public School has reached a critical goal in funding its new SmartLab.

In a ceremony Friday, representatives of NextEra Energy Resources and Xcel Energy were in Kulm to each commit $12,500 to help the school secure computer lab equipment and expand the school science, technology, energy, arts and math (STEAM) curriculum. The $25,000 donation follows a $25,000 grant awarded in October from the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Program, sponsored by Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Co.

The funds will further improve the STEAM program for the school of around 140 students in grades K-12, said Tami Kramlich, Kulm Public School superintendent.

“It can be a challenge for rural schools to compete for resources with high-population school districts making this gift all the more impactful,” Kramlich said.

The fundraising effort began with a $5,000 donation from the Kulm Economic Development Corp. in Oct. 2016, said Sarah Gackle, director of the Kulm School Foundation. The goal was to raise at least half the cost of the lab to meet the school district’s commitment to match the other half of the lab cost, she said.

“The total cost of the SmartLab is around $90,000 and so we had plenty left to raise,” Gackle said.

The hardware, software and education based items were designed by Creative Learning Systems, which worked with the North Dakota Center for Distance Education in designing an affordable package for rural schools on smaller budgets, she said. The result was curriculum and equipment for the 12-student lab to include computers, a 3-D printer, digital cameras, hydrogen fuel cells and software for robotics, animation and video editing.

“Now that we are past the halfway point (in fundraising) we can move forward with lab installation and that will take some pressure off of our other needs,” Gackle said.

The initial outreach was to NextEra Energy Resources as the developer of the Foxtail Wind Farm near Kulm, she said. Xcel Energy came into the picture as the construction and production partner in the wind farm project, she said.

“So they already have a corporate partnership and they felt this was another way to partner in generosity and they were wonderful about that to the SmartLab,” Gackle said.

NextEra Energy also donated a Kids Wind curriculum that provides tools and teacher training about how wind energy works and benefits the community, she said. Kulm is surrounded by wind farms and this project will teach how the turbines work and give kids a hands-on experience, she said.

Clay Cameron, project developer for NextEra Energy Resources, and Mark Nisbet, principal manager of Xcel Energy-North Dakota, attended the Friday ceremony. The two said in a press release that the SmartLab will encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers and prepare them for the job market.

“Maybe one day that future will take them into the energy industry where some of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. can be found,” Cameron said.

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