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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) — Teachers from across the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) seven-state region have applied for a $5,000 STEAM grant — but three in Limestone County were the lucky winners.

The money goes toward classroom projects that expose students to science, technology, engineering, and math.

“These kids… they can do so much,” said Diane Trout, lab specialist for the HEART Academy at Julian Newman Elementary. “People underestimate elementary kids so often. I have the best job ever, I see PreK-3rd grade in the STEM lab, and they can do so much.”

Trout says she plans to use the funding to add two new 3D printers, along with flex beds and filament. 

“When the students design something in Tinkercad, they design it in the workspace and whenever they’re ready they let me know,” Trout added. “I then download it to the computer and pull it into the workspace. Basically, what happens is that the computer sends it to the 3D printer. It melts the filament down and then it prints it out in whatever shape the students have created.”

At SPARK Academy at Cowart Elementary, STEM Specialist Jennifer Kennedy told News 19 she plans to add two new hydroponic towers in the lab and expand their indoor garden and refresh their outdoor growing spaces with soil and benches.

“We’re going to grow different types of lettuces and we’re going to have tomatoes,” Kennedy said. “At the end of the year, all the third grade can have this beautiful, delicious celebratory salad that they grew in our hydroponics garden. I want my students to have the latest technologies available to them in the classroom.”

Over at Athens Renaissance School (ARS), STEAM Studios Coordinator Taylor Whisenant says they plan to use the funds to enhance their outdoor classroom and garden. ARS hopes to get the BEA recognized as an official Alabama Wildlife Habitat.

“The students are getting to learn research skills, presentation skills, coding skills in addition to all the support with the gardening,” added Whisenant.

Carina Davidson, a fourth grader at Athens Renaissance School STEAM Studios, said, “We’ve been working on it for at least a couple of months. On the weekends, the parents come out and help us build all of this.”

Jackson Penner, a third grader at Athens Renaissance School STEAM Studios, said, “We’re learning about rocks and minerals and fossils.”

“Yeah, what rocks may be harmful to the plants,” said Braddock Ferguson, a fourth grader at ARS STEAM Studios. “If there’s any dirt clumps or dirt clumps with rocks in them that are next to the roots, they might be sharp and cut the roots and stop the circulation of the plant to where they could stop growing.”

Whisenant says the garden will include water elements, weather stations, arts and music integration, an informational app and planting guide, benches, vermiculture, pollinator habitats, and more!

Since 2018, TVA/BVI has provided almost $5 million in STEM grants to support science, technology, engineering, and math education projects for almost 600,000 students across the seven-state TVA region. 

Click here to view a full list of grant recipients, as well as information on how to apply for future STEM grants.