Virtual reality learning grant speeds Middletown Schools’ progress

Learning through virtual reality just got closer to reality thanks to a major grant from a Middletown community organization to the city school district.

The $12,224 grant from the Middletown Community Foundation was recently presented to the Middletown Board of Education.

The grant funds will go toward augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) devices for a new course being offered at Middletown High School, the Makerspace at the Middletown Middle School, and to provide all students with the opportunity to engage and learn from a virtual reality experience, said school officials.

Two years ago Middletown Schools participated in a free trial with Google-supplied virtual reality goggles at some of its elementary schools. While the goggles proved popular with students, the costs of permanently installing the program proved too expensive for the school district.

Middletown School Board President Chris Urso thanked the local foundation for its generosity.

“These dollars will allow our school leaders to expand the STEAM programs within our school district and this innovation will not only benefit all of our students, but also keep our curriculum relevant and future-thinking,” he said.

Melissa Prohaska, technology and digital coordinator for Middletown Schools, said the virtual reality (VR) devices will be used in a variety of ways.

The devices, she said, will help Middletown students “experience places and things they would otherwise never get to experience, such as visiting the Louvre Museum in Paris or analyzing the human heart in 3-D.”

The VR technology will also allow high school students to learn computer coding, Prohaska said.

The school system’s efforts to modernize learning have accelerated since Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. joined the district last year.

Middletown academic leaders will introduce virtual reality to the curriculum, providing students with virtual experiences and coding instruction, according to district officials.

“We’re thrilled the Middletown Community Foundation grant gives Middletown Schools the ability to dive in further with our district STEAM initiative, especially the ‘A’ in STEAM. We’re trailblazing a new path for our Arts Programs, and the AR/VR devices gives us a way to leverage technology through those creative departments,” said Prohaska.

The partnership between the two entities is well-established, but the leaders of the organizations have a vision to close the gaps between district and community.

“Middletown City Schools are striving for and committed to a modernization movement that will propel students of all ages into an area of technology that will enhance their learning experience tremendously,” said Carole Shul, Middletown Community Foundation Board President.

“The Foundation is excited to be a part of that movement. Hopefully this grant, and the virtual reality devices it will provide to the schools, will open a whole new world to the students and provide them with an opportunity to learn on a completely different level,” she said.

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