By Michael Buettner, The Progress-Index
ETTRICK — To the kids at Ettrick Elementary School, the gifts from online retail giant Amazon.com look like pure fun, but to Amazon and school officials, they’re powerful learning tools.
Executives and employees from Amazon’s Chesterfield County fulfillment center joined students, school officials and local dignitaries Friday to announce a donation of $7,500 worth of items to help equip a new learning laboratory at the school that will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
The school has faced challenges, and last year was one of just two schools in Chesterfield to be denied accreditation for failing to meet state-mandated pass rates on Standards of Learning tests. The School Board and administrators have already taken a number of steps to boost Ettrick Elementary’s performance, including adding teachers in critical areas such as reading and math.
“Our school has already received a number of additional supports from the School Board – thank you very much for that – and the school division has helped us in our efforts,” Principal Randi Smith acknowledged on Friday. “And I’m excited to share that benchmark testing so far this year shows progress, and I believe we are fulfilling our promise to prepare our students for success.”
Other community partners are also stepping up to help the school, including a program that started in February in which Virginia State University is providing up to 40 students from its College of Education to help reinforce math programs at the elementary school.
“Today we’re here to announce another new and very exciting partnership. This one will support our efforts to better engage students in the classroom experience,” Smith said.
Greg Grilliot, general manager at Amazon’s distribution center in the Meadowville Technology Park in Enon, said the company’s donation aims to help equip the new STEM-focused lab and enable students to gain essential hands-on experience with robotics equipment and other tools.
“You can’t develop an aptitude for STEM unless you have the ability to put your hands on and have the resources that you need to do it,” he said. “When we say that STEM education is important, we mean it.”
In general, Grilliot said, Amazon believes “that it’s important to give back to the community where our associates work and live.”
About 15 Ettrick Elementary students attended the presentation, and it was clear that they liked the idea of “hands on” – when Grilliot told them they could go ahead and try out the donated items, the children quickly swarmed around the tables where the gifts were stacked and tried out as many as they could, with big smiles and shouts of excitement.
On hand for Friday’s presentation were numerous state and local leaders, including state Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance (D-16th), Del. Lashrecse D. Aird (D-63rd), Matoaca District Supervisor Steve Elswick, and four School Board members – Rob Thompson (Matoaca), Javaid E. Siddiqi (Midlothian; chairman); John M. Erbach (Dale; vice chairman); and Dianne H. Smith (Clover Hill).