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Salamanca High School helps to make personal protective equipment

The efforts are part of the school's larger STEAM program, which gives real-life experience in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

SALAMANCA, N.Y. — Salamanca High School students are getting some real-world experience in technology and helping their community with their most recent project — printing protective face masks and parts for face shields, all in an effort to help healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The students and teachers are partnering with Boundless Connections, an Olean-based technology center.

Most of the work is being done remotely, but the district is allowing a couple of employees to help with the project at the school while practicing social distancing.

Editor's note: Channel 2's Heather Ly visited Salamanca High School before the coronavirus pandemic began to do a feature story on the high school's STEAM program. Those students are now involved in making personal protective equipment.

Changing the face of learning

Just five years ago, Salamanca High School was in danger of being taken over by the state of New York. Test scores were low and graduation rates weren't good, and district leaders knew something had to be done to improve student success.

"At that point in time, we made a conscious decision to really focus on what the students need to be successful in life as opposed to pass tests," said Mark Beehler, assistant superintendent for academic services. "We looked at what our students would be doing after high school, and there are a lot of advanced manufacturing opportunities for our students down here."

The school district spent $14 million on the STEAM expansion project — an entire wing of the high school devoted to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. There are special classrooms and work spaces along with specialized equipment for students.

"We are absolutely one of the districts that are the movers and shakers in the STEAM platform at this point in time, and I would say for big schools and small schools, you can still make a pretty big splash when you've got great staff and fantastic students and the supportive community," said Robert Breidenstein, Salamanca Schools superintendent.

The space is used by fourth through twelfth grade students and after-school clubs, but the space is also open for use by people in the community.

Students are building robots and flying drones, and some are even getting FAA drone pilot certification.

"It's very, very hands on here, but when you're doing it on a blackboard, it's all theoretical," said student Cole Johnson.

School leaders never imagined this great of a positive impact. Not only are students developing their talents and finding their passions, but graduation rates have increased.

The overall graduation rate for Salamanca High School now stands at 86 percent compared to just 63 percent five years ago.

The district said it's all about changing the way students learn and how teachers lead their classrooms. They're putting a greater focus on what's best to do now to help students more once they leave high school. It's also about giving students more choices.

"There is a lot of fun with doing robotics because it's just the excitement of when you're out at a competition and the excitement of when some little thing works out the way you want it to. It's just all around really fun," said student Poem Kranock.

Salamanca High School was one of just three high schools in all of the U.S. and Canada to receive a national award for STEM excellence.

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