Rutherford County Schools has announced a $300,000 grant from Facebook for the expansion of the district’s Project STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) initiative. The grant, awarded to the Rutherford County Schools Education Foundation, will help support the creation of STEAM and robotics labs at each of its 18 schools.

Rutherford County Schools serves more than 7,800 students who all participate in STEAM-related course work. However, instructors currently rely on a small supply of resources and materials in mobile carts or media centers to help support instructional content. The new lab spaces will provide a designated space for all grade levels and a lab for students to have the resources needed to enhance Rutherford County students’ STEAM education. The STEAM labs will also be available for after-school programming, and to local nonprofits and community groups to utilize throughout the year.

The announcement was made today by Rutherford County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. David Sutton and Forest City Mayor Steve Holland at the Carolina Isobots Competition, an annual robotics competition that engages students in researching and solving a real-world problem, as well as engineering and coding a robot to run complicated missions on a competition table.

“This donation from Facebook is a game-changer for Rutherford County Schools, and will impact every single one of our students,” said Sutton. “It propels our STEAM programming ahead by a decade in a way that we never could have done on our own. We are incredibly grateful to Facebook for their commitment to Rutherford County Schools’ students.”

“STEAM education is vital for students to be successful in today’s world, and, while it has been a priority for the district, we lacked the financial muscle needed to bring it to the level we wanted for our students,” said Kim Carpenter, Rutherford County Schools’ chief technology officer. “In recent years, we have made significant progress in our elementary schools by providing STEAM opportunities via mobile makerspace carts for use in classrooms, media centers and Career and Technical Education programs. With these dedicated lab spaces, we can further expand and elevate our STEAM programming during the school day and through after-school opportunities. This is a very exciting day for all Rutherford County Schools’ students.”

The STEAM labs will include makerspace tools, functional furniture and storage equipment designed for hands-on, collaborative learning. The labs are also being supported with equipment from previous state funded grants.

“STEAM education is incredibly important for students of today to be career and college-ready, and we’re proud to help foster learning in the fields of technology, electrical, mechanical, programming, robotics and more,” said Katie Comer, Facebook community development regional manager. “Facebook is committed to playing a positive role and investing in the long-term vitality of Rutherford County, and we’re excited to see these labs come to life for these students.”

Since the opening of the Facebook Forest City Data Center in 2012, Facebook has invested over $700,000 into Rutherford County Schools’ projects and activities. Funding for prior district and school projects came through Facebook’s Community Action Grants. This annual grant program supports projects of nonprofits and schools in the greater Forest City area (Rutherford, Cleveland, McDowell, Polk and Henderson counties) that address community needs by putting the power of technology to use for community benefit, connecting people online or off, or improving local STEAM education.

Applications for Facebook Community Action Grants are currently being accepted through December 3. The application link, program terms and guidelines can be found at www.facebook.com/ForestCityDataCenter.

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