Pitsco Grants benefit classrooms, libraries, and robotics teams in 2017

by perducoeducation

At Pitsco, we love awarding a $350 grant to one deserving educator every month. Sometimes, it goes to a traditional classroom; other times, it goes to a librarian or robotics mentor who goes above and beyond. We’ve followed up with a few of the 2017 recipients to discover what they chose with their grant funds and how it’s worked out for their programs.

Librarians Are STEM and Makerspace Gurus Too

Tonya Fletcher is the April winner and school librarian at Franklin Elementary in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

The library isn’t just for books any longer. And librarians? Well, they don’t necessarily fit the stereotypes of yesteryear. Now, libraries and librarians lead a variety of events and even makerspaces. The April grant winner Tonya teaches information and technology skills at her elementary school’s library but keeps busy all around; she is a Battle of the Books coach, Imagination Chapter leader, SciGirls leader, STEM Club assistant, Relay for Life coordinator, blogger, and more. And she is passionate about giving her students creative opportunities.

“We love to create! Our students are makers, tinkerers, engineers, designers, thinkers, artists, scientists, inventors, coders, readers, and Minecraft players!” Tonya said, then referred to the motto of Gen Imagination: Learning Through Creative Play. “Gen Imagination is our movement to facilitate learning through creative play. Kids learn best through play and that is achieved best through hands-on products.”

When she applied for the grant, she was hoping to add some elementary STEM books and curriculum materials to build a scope and sequence for her school’s STEM lab. And that’s exactly what she got! Tonya stocked up on elementary teacher guides as well as other STEM-oriented books, sign language flash cards, and a variety of card sorts.


Tonya said that when her school started a STEM lab, she had searched for an affordable and easy-to-follow curriculum for Grades K-5. Though she found some elements at the time, it wasn’t until she saw Pitsco’s Children’s Engineering guides and other complementary books and products that she found what she’d been looking for.

“My favorite is Beyond the Basics: Highlighting the T & E in STEM Education. Pitsco’s STEM guides are full of detailed lesson plans with goals, objectives, student handouts (guided portfolios), instructions, recommended book lists, and so much more,” she said. “I was thrilled to see that they were aligned to our ELA, math, and science standards.

“As a media coordinator looking to incorporate more STEM activities into my lessons and makerspace activities, I especially appreciated the guides entitled Linking Literature to Structures. These activities were ready to go; all I had to add were the materials we already had in our makerspace.”

Helping Teachers Who Wear Many Hats

Billy Carroll is the May winner and robotics and engineering teacher at Moss Point Career & Technical Education Center in Mississippi.

Like many teachers, Billy wears many hats: teacher, school counselor, sports coach, and more. In his school district, the majority of students live in poverty and require extra support, but he loves the students and his work! We were only too happy to award this teacher and advocate of hands-on learning with a Pitsco Grant. Billy opted to get BridgePak consumables plus extra servo motors for their TETRIX® robotics sets. 

“Balsa wood can be used in many different hands-on projects, and you can never have enough servo motors for your TETRIX robots,” he explained. “These items will help our students prepare for the upcoming Transportation and Civil Engineering Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, and the state robotics competition in Starkville, Mississippi.”

Billy is a proponent of hands-on learning because it engages students with relatable problems and opportunities. “Hands-on learning allows students to see and feel how abstract lecture- and book-based learning is applied in real life.”

The educator said that finding outside sources of funding are much appreciated.

“We are a Title I school and do not receive any funding from the school district to support my program,” he said. “Funding opportunities like the Pitsco Grant allow me to bring STEM-related concepts to life for my students!”

Building Possibilities for FIRST® Robotics Teams

Clarissa Belbas is the June winner and president of ASSiST: Advancing STEM for Students in South Texas.

Robotics competitions require determination not just from competitors but also from mentors and parents. Clarissa and others from ASSiST, a co-op of five FIRST Tech Challenge teams, recently needed extra determination as the Houston, Texas, organization has been recovering from Hurricane Harvey. In the midst of members fixing and remodeling their homes, they were also gearing up to start the new competition season.


This group is accustomed to being determined – it takes a lot of resources to help five teams compete, especially when they don’t receive school funding like many teams do. Grants like Pitsco’s help them get the extras that make them more successful in FIRST.

“It’s life or death for us because that’s how we exist,” Clarissa said. “Basically, we’re a community of garage teams.”

She explained that they wanted the grant to purchase some extra TETRIX battery packs and TorqueNADO™ DC motors to power a basic demo robot that they’ve dubbed Wannabe. Though not a competition robot, it is important nonetheless.

“As a part of FIRST, we need to go on the road and do outreach,” Clarissa explained. “They do camps or presentations, and unless it’s in that short period of time between when they bought their kit and built their competition robot, all their parts are tied up into their robot. They’re not going to let anyone touch their competition robot. We were hoping to raise enough funds to buy one or two full kits that we could use for workshops and presentations.”

They pulled together enough spare parts from all the teams to build the demo robot, and the extra battery packs kept it running all day at outreach events where young people want to operate the robot. Though Clarissa’s veteran team, Error 404 Robotics, is moving toward 3-D printing and machining custom parts, the organization works with a lot of rookie teams, and they recommend the TETRIX system to them, particularly as FIRST Tech teams need to learn CAD as well as building and coding.

“To expect them to draw from a vacuum and then draw it in CAD, that’s too much,” she said. “Besides that, [with TETRIX] there’s a long history of curriculum, example robots, YouTube videos, and all kinds of stuff for them to go draw from for ideas and how to build a good chassis or arm.”

We hope Clarissa and those in ASSiST recover quickly from the hurricane and have an amazing robotics season!

You Can Win Too!

Do you have a special cause in your school or organization that could use a boost? How about your classroom or makerspace? You, too, could win a $350 Pitsco Grant – we select a deserved educator every month. Visit our website to learn more and apply for a Pitsco Grant, or nominate a worthy educator. Looking for other sources of grants? Check out our listing of private and federal grants that is updated every month!

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