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Three Baltimore schools get boost from Northrop Grumman, UMBC

Students at Lakeland Elementary/Middle in Baltimore, one of three schools that will benefit from a $1.6 million investment from the Northrop Grumman Foundation to support STEAM education, demonstrate the robots they’ve built to launch plastic balls into a bin. From left, Joshua Latchford, 10; Tiarra Maxwell, 11; Jajuan Baker, 12; and Francisco Vega, 12.   Northrup Grumman is putting up $1.6 million to create a STEAM  center at Lakeland Elementary and provide additional programming at local high schools.(Daniel Leaderman/The Daily Record)

Students at Lakeland Elementary/Middle in Baltimore, one of three schools that will benefit from a $1.6 million investment from the Northrop Grumman Foundation to support STEAM education, demonstrate the robots they’ve built to launch plastic balls into a bin. From left, Joshua Latchford, 10; Tiarra Maxwell, 11; Jajuan Baker, 12; and Francisco Vega, 12. Northrup Grumman is putting up $1.6 million to create a STEAM center at Lakeland Elementary and provide additional programming at local high schools.(Daniel Leaderman/The Daily Record)

Northrop Grumman wants to be able to draw future generations of engineers from Baltimore schools and has announced a new effort to make that happen.

With help from the city schools and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the Northrop Grumman Foundation is launching a $1.6 million initiative to boost science- and art-focused education at three schools and to support their surrounding communities.

“It’s about making sure that we are instilling [in students] an excitement about the future, about science and technology,” said Gloria Flach, Northrop Grumman’s chief operating officer, at a kickoff event Thursday at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School. “I want them at Northrop Grumman,” she said of the students.

A major component is the development of a special center at Lakeland that will offer students science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (or STEAM) resources as well as space for adult education and community events. An existing community center will be renovated to serve as the STEAM Center, which is expected to include science labs, a makerspace with 3D printers, a digital media lab and other resources when it’s completed in 2018, officials said.

The new initiative builds on a four-year-old partnership between Lakeland and UMBC, said Principal Najib Jammal.

The university helped the school obtain a grant for science and technology after-school and summer programs, and UMBC professors have worked with Lakeland teachers on curriculum development, Jammal said.

In addition to the STEAM Center, the partnership will expand an initiative known as The Choice Program at UMBC – already in place at Lakeland – into two more schools, Benjamin Franklin High School and the Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School.

The Choice Program offers case management and intervention for at-risk students who may be struggling academically and their families; part of the goal is to reduce arrests and in-school discipline such as suspension, which can keep students from advancing academically.

One reason why the new partnership is important can be observed in the diversity of the student body at UMBC, said President Freeman A. Hrabowski III. Students from other countries, or whose parents come from other countries, are typically far-better prepared for college, he said.

“We have a vision that we’re going to prepare children who come through this school,” Hrabowski said at Lakeland. “[They’ll] be prepared to come to UMBC and compete successfully against kids from all over the world, and one day go and work at Northrop Grumman.”

Some students at Lakeland are already developing a passion for engineering: The school’s robotics club, which competes against other city schools, is in its third year, said coach Erin Christensen, who also teaches science and social studies. The new STEAM Center will give the club more room to practice and build its machines, she said.

When the new partnership was announced at the school Thursday, several of the club members showed off their remote-controlled creations, which were designed to pick up plastic balls and put them into a plastic container.

Eleven-year-old Tiarra Maxwell said that when building the robots, they started from an existing design, then made their own changes after testing it. Rather than a claw-like apparatus that lifted and dropped the balls, they settled on a catapult-like system that would scoop them up and throw them, she said.

Joshua Latchford, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, said he’d wanted to join the club for years, and finally had the chance this year. One lesson he’s learned so far is to keep trying.

“If you don’t try, you’re already failing,” he said.

The team is scheduled to participate in several upcoming tournaments, including one this weekend.

While the students maneuvered the robots, Christensen watched approvingly as orange ball after orange ball dropped into the blue goal.

“Things are looking good for Saturday.”