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TAYLORVILLE – Taylorville students are going places – on an architectural tour of the Golden Gate Bridge, to explore a tomb deep inside an Egyptian pyramid, to experience action on a Civil War battlefield, to a virtual automotive shop to learn how to take apart an engine and to a biology lab to see what’s inside humans and animals.

Students are able to do all of this because of the investment the Taylorville school district is making in 21st-century technology, made possible because of Illinois’ revamped school funding formula.

“This is about stability. Yes, we were able to pick up additional money through the formula. That’s good and we’re able to capitalize on that,” Taylorville CUSD 3 Superintendent Gregg Fuerstenau said. “But the financial stability the new funding formula offers is what really allows us to make investments like these and enhance our ability to do more things with local resources.”

State Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and the driving force behind Illinois’ new school funding formula, toured Taylorville schools Tuesday to observe how the new formula is making a difference.

“I’m elated to see the Taylorville school district leveraging school funding reform to expand students’ exposure to new places, new ideas, new ways of learning and career opportunities they may have never considered before,” Manar said.

“That’s what school funding reform was all about – ensuring students in rural and downstate school districts have the same educational opportunities as students elsewhere in Illinois.”

More than $401,000 in additional money has been pumped into Taylorville schools during the new formula’s first two years on the books. Fuerstenau was a strong proponent of school funding reform.

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At Memorial Elementary School, 101 E. Adams St., new reading textbooks have replaced textbooks that third- and fourth-graders have been using for 20 years. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) carts – introduced this year – enable teachers to bring technology and outside-the-box learning into the classroom.

In Dana Montes’ third-grade classroom Tuesday, students got their first opportunity to use Google Expeditions for a geography lesson and went on a tour of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. As part of its technology plan, the district has purchased sets of the virtual reality educational tool for use by third- through sixth-graders. Students can take virtual field trips of national landmarks, museums, universities, planets and more.

At Taylorville High School, 815 Springfield Road, technology is being integrated into learning largely through the addition of a STEM lab. Community support and a significant donation to the school district from Bill and Marilyn Hopper have made much of the lab and its contents possible. That private support has freed the district to use state school funding dollars for additional tech-related resources and other needs.

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Inside the lab, students have access to:

  • Z space stations, which are all-in-one computers with augmented- and virtual-reality capabilities for STEM learning, automotive training, welding simulator, and language and literature instruction;
  • Oculus Rift technology that enables students to use virtual reality to explore places and events that no longer exist or otherwise would be available to them only through textbooks and imagination;
  • 3D printers for use with Tinkercad and other programs; and
  • the Anatomage, a 3D medical imaging machine and virtual dissection table that allows students to explore systems of the human body, as well as those of various animals, to complement classroom instruction. Using a touch interface, students can view interactive dissections; learn about cells, tissue and bones; study forensic science; see what’s inside mummies; and more. Only two school districts in Illinois have an Anatomage table, Fuerstenau said.

“These tools help students make connections they wouldn’t be able to make wish a book and a lecture,” Fuerstenau said. “Visualization is so important for students, and these tools help bring their lessons to life.”
Manar agreed.

“These are tremendous educational resources for these students. The sky’s the limit in terms of what they and their teachers will be able to explore and learn,” Manar said.

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