Schools

Grants at Work: ‘The Foundation Presents’ on West Hartford Community Television

Mike Schramm (left) host of 'The Foundation Presents' on WHC-TV, interviews Michael Wilkosz who received a grant for the creation of prosthetic hands using a 3D printer. Photo credit: Ronni Newton
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The Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools has launched a program on West Hartford Community Television that is bringing to life some of its grants for the donors as well as the teacher recipients.

By Ronni Newton

In the 20 years since the non-profit Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools (FWHPS) was founded, the organization has invested more than $1.5 million to support the work of teachers in the town’s public schools – paving the way for students to participate in hundreds of unique and valuable programs and experiences.

Certified teachers can apply for the grants either on their own or with colleagues, and the FWHPS makes its awards annually through a “blind” review process that doesn’t reveal the school or teaching applying but rather takes into account “creativity and innovation.” Donations to the FWHPS are made by community members as well as businesses, and “teacher thank you’s” are a prime source of funds, as is the annual West Hartford’s Cookin’ celebrity chef fundraiser.

The organization is a tremendous resource for the town and its schools, but there are still many people who don’t have any idea that all of this is happening.

A completed prosthetic ‘raptor hand’ created by a student in Hall High School’s technology and engineering class. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Through its new program on West Hartford Community Television (WHC-TV), the FWHPS has found a way to bring some of the grants to life. “This show is produced once a month as a way to educate the public about The Foundation,” Board member Carol Lorenzo said of “The Foundation Presents.” In some cases even the donors don’t realize the extent of the exceptional experiences their donations help students enjoy, until they have a chance to sit down with host Mike Schramm.

Hall High School Technology and Engineering teacher Michael Wilkosz teamed up with Conard’s Anthony Truss and Charles McDermott in applying for a grant for the “e-NABLE Prosthetic 3D Printed Hand Challenge.” The team received the $3,000 “State Farm Insurance Grant” funded by West Hartford agent Mario Russo, who along with Wilkosz recently recorded the October episode of “The Foundation Presents” with Schramm.

Wilkosz, who has previously obtained two other grants from the FWHPS, said that the impetus for the grant came from Hall Assistant Principal Shelley Solomon, who learned that a school in Manchester was working with e-NABLE to create the components for prosthetic hands on its 3D printer. Both Conard and Hall already have 3D printers, and participating in this program “uses the downtime with the printer,” Wilkosz said.

The plastic components for the hand are made on 3D printers at Hall and Conard. The other hardware is provided in a kit. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The global e-NABLE organization uses donated 3D printer capacity, crowd-sourcing the production to literally provide a “helping hand” to those who need a prosthesis to perform everyday tasks like picking up objects or turning the pages of a book. Components for the “raptor” hands are made from polylactic acid (PLA) filament and $8-$10 of additional material such as velcro attachments, twine, and springs.

Demonstrating to Schramm how the prostheses work, Wilkosz said that the hands being made in West Hartford are one-size-fits-all, but custom-sized hands or different length fingers can also be ordered.

The project dovetails perfectly with the curriculum for Technology and Engineering, Wilkosz said, where students are encouraged to explore various facets of engineering. While working to create the prosthetic hands, the students are also looking to see how they can save on the materials, streamline the process, and analyze the sustainability of the design.

In addition, this project is “designing for a cause,” Wilkosz said. His goal is to eventually have an e-NABLE branch at Hall and continue to create the components for hands with the printer.

As of now, each student in the class will create at least one complete hand. Wilkosz said that a team build may be held giving other students the opportunity to do the assembly work.

Donor Mario Russo has had a State Farm Insurance office in the Elmwood area of West Hartford for just over nine years. He learned about the FWHPS from Board President Cyndi Brown who invited him to West Hartford’s Cookin’.

State Farm Agent Mario Russo (right) can be seen on the set recording ‘The Foundation Presents,’ chatting with host Mike Schramm. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“We get approached by many organizations, but as a small business it’s hard to choose,” Russo said. “This grant participation interests me because it exposes students to science,” said Russo, who has two sons of his own, ages 16 and 19.

“The Foundation does so much more than I thought,” Russo said in his interview with Schramm. He said he was so excited listening to Witkosz describe the e-NABLE project, and was amazed at the level of excitement that was generated from a donation of just $1,000.

“Everyone is involved and dedicated, and the end focus is to help children,” he said of the FWHPS.

His message to other potential donors, Russo told Schramm, is “Stop looking for places [to donate to] when this is the right place.”

As the youngest member of the FWHPS Board of Directors, Schramm, a 2010 graduate of Conard High School and 2014 graduate of Muhlenberg College, said he got involved with the organization through Brown. He knew her because her daughter was in his class at Conard and they go to the same church.

“I care a lot about the public schools. I have always been a person who valued the public education I got,” Schramm said. “Not everyone cares.”

Schramm now works as an annual fund officer at Wesleyan University, and has had experience working with his church youth group. He was recruited to help with the FWHPS social media.

An email had gone out to Board members asking for volunteers to host the first episode of “The Foundation Presents” last spring. Schramm said that a week or two later, he responded and said that in case they were still looking for someone, he wouldn’t mind doing it.

Schramm said the monthly show is now on its sixth episode, and guests have included teachers, library media specialists, principals, board members, and donors. Although only one new show is produced a month, the episodes are broadcast once a week and are also available on YouTube.

“I really like it,” Schramm said. “I enjoy the chance to chat with educators in town. I said I would do it permanently.”

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