Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation provides technology grants to area schools

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A huge leap into the 21st century is the way Steve Miller describes the impact on Sherrard Community Unit School District #200 when it was awarded a technology grant from the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation, a private foundation administered by the Quad Cities Community Foundation.

As part of its mission to improve economic development and technology in Mercer County, Illinois, the foundation recently awarded $45,000 to the Sherrard School District and $55,000 to the Mercer County School District. 

Nearly 2,500 students residing in Mercer County will benefit from the $100,000 in grants awarded to the two schools. The grant opportunity was made available to all four school districts in the region that educate Mercer County students. 

Miller, an instructional technology coach for the Sherrard district, said they will invest in robotic and coding equipment for outdated elementary school computer labs and eventually make improvements district-wide. “Currently, you walk in and we have a computer lab from the 1990s, with lots of storage and wires and floppy discs,” he said. “These changes we will now be able to implement will allow our kids to be creative, collaborative and problem solve with updated technology.”

The upgrades will include 75-inch clever touch interactive screens. “It’s like having a mobile device on the wall,” Miller said, and is an effective teaching tool for staff. 

Sherrard Superintendent Alan Boucher said the school district is focused on student collaboration, computer programming, robotics and other concepts related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and the funding goes a long way in meeting their goals. “Technology doesn’t exclusively exist on a computer screen,” he said. “Students will need to apply technology skills to workplace situations after they graduate.”

The sooner the students can benefit from better technology, the better for everyone. The district had already planned to improve the computer labs, but the grant helped them do the work this year. “We couldn’t have had better timing,” Miller said.

“Implementing the program now will allow our younger students to acquire rudimentary skills and build upon them when they get to the junior and senior high schools,” Boucher added.

Mercer County Superintendent Scott Petrie said his district will also see great gains thanks to the grant. The district invested in 600 Chrome books for students from seventh to 12th grade. The grant will allow them to purchase all of the necessary textbook software to accompany the Chrome books. “It certainly steps up our timeline,” he said. “The foundation has really helped us.”

Students will see the greatest benefit. “If there’s an increase in engagement in the classroom, it means that they are connecting with the material and experiencing gains in learning,” Petrie said.

Miller said it’s the same for the students in his district. The computer lab will have space for students to move, flexible seating and the updated technology. “It’s really exciting,” he said. “The look on their faces makes the biggest difference. It’s a place they want to be.” 

Creating a classroom students want to be in is half the work, he added. “It changes the game because they’re inspired and motivated.”

Kelly Thompson, administrator for the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation, said the grants are a great example of how funding can impact the entire community. “It is exciting to think of the redesigned technology classrooms that students will be walking into this year, and the direct impact it will have on their learning, and their future,” Thompson said. “This foundation has made a deep commitment to this community and these schools.”

Dorothy Looser-Flake and Roberta Looser were sisters who were born and raised on a family farm near New Boston Township, Illinois. They cared deeply about the community that gave them so much growing up, and started the charitable foundation to support the region. Between 2015 and 2017, the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation awarded more than half a million dollars to advance economic development and improve education in Mercer County, Illinois.