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Sonoma elementary school gets maker space (thanks to Kiwanis)

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Principal Andrew Ryan is ecstatic. Ever since taking the reins at Sassarini Elementary School in mid-2017 he has dreamed of somehow getting the campus a maker space.

He hopes for Sassarini to be the first step in a K-12 continuum of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) instructional opportunities, where students can start their journey at Sassarini, continue in the Maker Lab at Altimira Middle School and then participate in the Engineering, Design and Technology Academy at Sonoma Valley High.

Thanks to a major grant of $26,000 from the Sonoma Plaza Kiwanis, his dream has become a reality.

While the room, 4.1, officially opened last week, Ryan and his Maker Lab instructor Lori Edwards are in the process right now of buying tools and supplies for the maker space.

“Everything we are buying is to enhance the curriculum that we have put together for our makers/STEAM class,” Ryan said.

The student projects planned include rocket engineering, circuits, motors, solar-powered machines, game design, physics of handmade musical instruments, mosaics and woodworking.

Ryan said that the money will go toward components and tools that students can use for everyday making and can be used on multiple projects (hammers, saws, safety equipment, needles, thread, screw drivers, wire cutters, duct tape, magnets, batteries, rulers, levelers etc.) Over time, Ryan expects to add a sewing machine, light sensor to teach about sound waves and circuits, a Lego wall, magnetic marble wall and a Peg art board.

No major big-ticket items, like a 3D printer or laser cutter, are planned.

“The dollars we have are best spent on materials for the kids to create multiple projects,” he said. “As machines are great for learning, most machines having a learning curve and only allow room for one child at a time. We are spending our funds on multi-use components that teach kids how to make from the ground up and keep costs low.”

Ryan said that he will continue to seek funding to sustain the materials needed to stay current in maker trends, in addition to increasing the amount of funds allocated to “teacher time” in an effort to get more classes in the program.

Right now, the Maker Lab is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 12:40 to 1:30 p.m.

Edwards is a former toy designer who also serves as Sassarini’s site mentor coordinator.

“The donation from Kiwanis will outfit the room with appropriate furniture, materials and manipulatives as well as allow us to compensate our amazingly qualified maker teacher, Lori Edwards,” he said.

Currently Ryan and Edwards are piloting the maker space with a cohort of approximately 40 to 50 fourth and fifth graders.

Edwards will be assisted by instructional aide Mary Ann Bridant.

“We are focusing on piloting this project with a small group to work through any kinks or growing pains, educating our community and empowering our teacher,” said Ryan. “From there, we are excited and anxious to expand this amazing experience.”

Ryan said that his experience rolling out Sonoma Valley High School’s engineering design and technology academy taught him that, “Sometimes, you have to go slow to go far.”

“What we want to build into the Sassarini experience are a multitude of enrichment opportunities,” he said.

“Sassarini is in the heart of Sonoma Valley with long, rich ties to our community,” said Ryan. He noted that in the past two years alone, the school has partnered with Rotary, Plein Air, Social Advocates for Youth, Lions Club, Kiwanis, and others, in new initiatives surrounding art, music, the garden and now the maker curriculum.

Contact Lorna at ourschools@sonomanews.com.