Steve Miller is ready to fly like an eagle with the help of a new grant from a local private foundation.
The Sherrard School District’s instructional technology coach, Miller will benefit from a $97,000 grant from the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation, a private foundation administered by the Quad Cities Community Foundation. The district will be able to take multiple approaches to its commitment to innovation, from outfitting an innovation lab for junior high and high school students to providing ongoing teacher training.
For Miller, preparing students for the future means equipping them to solve problems with technology, including coding and robotics. While this curriculum will set students up to excel in the area’s agricultural and manufacturing industries, it will also equip them with universal skills like critical thinking and collaboration, according to a Wednesday release from the foundation.
In upgrading the junior high and high school’s library and media space into an innovation lab, Sherrard is taking a cue from its own success with a similar project in its elementary and intermediate schools, also supported by the Looser-Flake Foundation. According to Miller, flexible, modular technology and furniture will take the connectivity teachers and students learned last year to new heights.
“We want students to be able to pick up their chairs so they can work in a group or gather around a monitor to collaborate,” he said. “And we’re creating spaces that kids want to be in.”
A second Looser-Flake Foundation grant of $88,000 will go to Mercer County School District for its vocational modernization initiative.
For the last four years, the foundation has granted over $600,000 to educational technology projects in support of the Mercer County Better Together Action Plan’s aim to strengthen supplemental education opportunities for Mercer County students.
While the combined funds requested by the Sherrard and Mercer school districts exceeded the original budget for this year’s education grant program, Looser-Flake’s trustees found the requests so compelling that they fully funded both, according to the foundation release.
“These grants will aid investments in some amazing tech—but no one piece of equipment captures how far their impact will reach,” said Kelly Thompson, vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives at the Quad Cities Community Foundation. “Students will see the benefits of a strong foundation for years to come, and the entire Mercer County community will be better off for it.”
In the Mercer County School District, a focus on vocational education will find students gaining hands-on experience in fields like welding and veterinary care—and the new equipment supported by the Looser-Flake Foundation grant will put those students ahead of the game.
“According to the contractors installing the welding equipment, our facility will rival many post-secondary training centers,” said Superintendent Scott Petrie. “On the veterinary side, one of the premier pieces we’re able to purchase is a bovine birthing and ultrasound simulator—the kind of equipment you’ll find in vet tech programs like Black Hawk College offers. We’re excited to give students these experiences early on and hopefully drive interest in those careers.”
That’s important in seeing those industries continue to grow in the region. “As a rural community, we have a high demand across many vocations,” said Petrie. “The expansion of many of our businesses is actually constrained by their inability to hire qualified applicants.”
Petrie explained that Mercer has been able to not only implement but also sustain varied technology projects thanks to initial major investments funded by Looser-Flake Foundation grants. “This funding really jumpstarts our ability to move forward with the kinds of things we hope our kids are able to experience in the future.”
Petrie and Miller agreed that the initiatives funded by the Looser-Flake Foundation will result in a more united region. Mercer’s vocational modernization project will facilitate increased collaboration with local community colleges through expanded dual-credit opportunities, Petrie said. It will help tighten bonds with local employers, too.
According to Miller, Sherrard’s teacher trainings will welcome educators from partner districts so that as many teachers—and students—as possible will benefit. “We may be in Sherrard, but we want kids in Orion and Rockridge to thrive,” he said.
The advancements supported by the grants also show surrounding areas just what Mercer County is capable of.
“A lot of people think of us as a school in a corn field; they don’t expect us to be able to offer this type of technology or education,” said Miller. “The Looser-Flake Foundation has accelerated what we can do, and we’re only getting started. We’re so grateful—I don’t know another word for it—for the way we can expand our education for teachers, students, and the community.”
The Looser-Flake Foundation is a private foundation started in 2013, serving charitable causes in Mercer County, Ill. Dorothy Looser-Flake and Roberta Looser were sisters who were born and raised on a family farm near New Boston Township, Ill.
They cared deeply about the community that gave them so much growing up – so they left a portion of their estates to establish the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation. For more information, visit qccommunityfoundation.org.