$68K donation to fund unique school programs

About half of money to pay for second year of zSpace virtual reality initiative


The Rockville Centre Education Foundation presented a donation of more than $68,000 to the school district at the Board of Education’s June 1 meeting, which will go toward grants that fund programs for the village’s students.

Each year, teachers throughout the district apply to the foundation for grants, and the organization’s grant committee decides on how to spread out the money to benefit the most students, according to Audra Cerruto, incoming president of the foundation’s executive board.

Cerruto bestowed the large check to Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson and Board of Education President Mark Masin. A majority of the funds were raised at the non-profit organization’s gala held on April 1, which brought in about $51,000. The foundation dipped into their savings to fund the rest of the grants, which Cerruto said was unprecedented.

The donation will fund 15 initiatives, including Dash and Dot Robotics, which will provide elementary school students the opportunity to learn coding, and Trout in the Classroom, a program in the high school in which students can hatch, monitor, raise and release trout into the environment. “Build a Better World,” a summer workshop at the Rockville Centre Library — facilitated by the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum — is also among those funded by the donation.

“The teachers really rose to the occasion and created amazing grants to create an exciting learning environment for our children,” Cerruto said, “so we’re really pleased to be a part of the district and this initiative.”

In addition to these, about $28,000 will go toward funding the usage of zSpace technology for the second straight year, which will allow South Side High School students to continue using virtual-reality computers to explore a variety of subjects.

By putting on glasses, students are able to immerse themselves in 3-D pre-made, or teacher-created programs, which gives viewers perspectives that they couldn’t normally experience in real life. The Education Foundation agreed to fund the interactive technology for three years, Cerruto said.

This past year, predominantly science and art teachers would reserve the room dedicated to zSpace about once a month, according to South Side High School Principal John Murphy. Though the technology was a supplement to lessons in its first year, Murphy added that he hopes to see teachers creating lessons that aren’t possible without it.

“It wasn’t just technology for technology sake,” Murphy said of adding the tool. “It was the thought that it could really improve instruction by making that which is abstract concrete.”

Teachers across many of SSHS’s departments have met with a representative for zSpace to lay out how they wish to use the technology, Murphy said, and the company is customizing ways to train teachers on how to create the lessons that they desire.

Along with the $28,000, an additional $6,000 was used to purchase a ShopBot Indexer, which will allow students to sculpt 3-D models using the zSpace programming. In the future, Cerruto said she hopes to expand the use of zSpace to the middle and elementary schools.

“The uses of zSpace are unlimited,” Cerruto said. “This is just the start of something that hopefully will be huge and make a big impact for the district.”