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Avon school builds second science lab

AVON--Paul Kuhlman is crazy about science. And through the years, his passion has spread to his students in the Avon School District. Most recently, Kuhlman, the seventh- through 12th-grade science and math teacher in Avon, received a $25,000 gra...

A pair of Avon students work on one of the new lab stations to test their science fair experiment of seeing how much sugar is in different types of fruit juice. The new lab stations were some of the new pieces of equipment Avon science teacher Paul Kuhlman purchased with a $25,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund, which sponsors the "America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education" program. (Matt Gade/Republic)
A pair of Avon students work on one of the new lab stations to test their science fair experiment of seeing how much sugar is in different types of fruit juice. The new lab stations were some of the new pieces of equipment Avon science teacher Paul Kuhlman purchased with a $25,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund, which sponsors the "America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education" program. (Matt Gade/Republic)

AVON-Paul Kuhlman is crazy about science. And through the years, his passion has spread to his students in the Avon School District.
Most recently, Kuhlman, the seventh- through 12th-grade science and math teacher in Avon, received a $25,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund to construct a second science lab in the school. He said the new lab has relieved cramped space and made teaching easier for him and the school's other science teacher, Gayle Cushenberry.

"I think the biggest thing is now our two science teachers don't have to share one lab. They always had to go back and forth and plan weeks ahead to use the one lab," Superintendent Tom Culver said. "It's going to save them a lot of time and energy."

The Monsanto Fund sponsors the "America's Farmers Grow Rural Education" program and offers $10,000 and $25,000 grants annually benefiting science and math programs in rural public school districts across the nation. The Hanson School District and Freeman School District also each received $10,000 Monsanto grants in 2014.

Construction began in the classroom in January 2015. Three lab stations were implemented, the separating wall between the two science classes was finished to close open space toward the top, new student desks, 11 laptops, new sinks and a drying oven were all purchased, along with updating plumbing, electricity and gas.

The school building, Kuhlman said, was built around 1925, so handling the plumbing, electricity and gas posed the biggest problems for workers. Students in shop classes finished the separating wall.

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"I always wanted a fully functional lab, because it was frustrating when you were in my room, you wouldn't have any water and you wouldn't have any gas," Kuhlman said. "It limited what you could do and it would rearrange how you made your schedule and how you planned things."

Classes using the new lab won't be limited to the high school.

Kuhlman said he hopes elementary classes will utilize the lab, too, since the lower grades don't have a room dedicated to science.

"I think when the elementary are in here, they're like 'Wow, we get to do science in a real science room.' It'll build more interest," Kuhlman said.

Additionally, because Kuhlman teaches both math and science, he now gets to integrate teaching material and show students how the two subjects overlap.

No stranger to receiving crucial grants when budgets are tight, Kuhlman said he has received between $10,000 and $20,000 in grant money prior to the Monsanto Grant.

"That was one of the other things we could put on the application, was that we had grants before that we've administered and been successful with," Kuhlman said. "I think it helps for them to know we've done big things before and done them well."

Other people are noticing Kuhlman's efforts to improve the science program, too.

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"Here's a guy who lives and breathes his profession. He takes it to the extreme-his license plates say 'science.' He conveys that to the kids about how excited he is and it shows every year," Culver said. "He puts in a tremendous amount of work and I think that commitment and excitement for science is relayed to the kids and they get fired up."

The project cost approximately $45,000 total-$20,000 more than the grant funded.

Kuhlman said he knew the grant wouldn't cover the project, so he gave it a name-"Periodic Table Renovations"-and set up a Facebook group for the school's science program to reach out to Avon alumni for donations.

In his 24th year teaching in Avon but a novice to Facebook, Kuhlman's wife set up the page and showed him how to navigate it. It quickly became a hit. So far, Kuhlman has raised approximately $12,000.

"It was a great way to get in contact with former students that we had no way of getting ahold of otherwise, and they did a good job of spreading the news," Kuhlman said. "It was the fastest way to spread the word to former alumni. It's crazy what social media can do."

To thank donors, Kuhlman said there will be eventually be a plaque in the lab with "Einstein, Galileo and Newton levels" to indicate how much money each person donated. To donate, people should contact Kuhlman at the school or through the Facebook page, "Avon Periodic Table Renovation."

The fundraiser helped to prove Kuhlman was serious about using the funds from the grant for a promising project. And, though Kuhlman was the instigator of the project, he said he couldn't have done it without the support of the community, school board and school staff members.

"Anybody that we've asked to help has been good," Kuhlman said.

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He said the school board was supportive in making the renovation project the best that it could possibly be, even if that meant going over budget.

"When you do a remodeling project, there's always that one thing you wish you would have done differently," Kuhlman said. "But I can't think of one thing that I would have done differently."

Kuhlman is especially grateful for the school janitor, Jay Mudder, who was responsible for most of the ordering and installation of materials.

"When we got the grant, a lot of it fell on Mr. Mudder," Kuhlman said. "He put in a lot of extra time and extra effort and had a really good attitude about it. He helped me with all of the little things that I didn't know about, and I couldn't have done it without him."

Kuhlman said to receive the grant, a nomination must be given by a farmer within the school's district. He said receiving a nomination wasn't difficult in Avon after doing the legwork to circulate the paperwork at student activities-area farmers were "more than willing" to help. He's hoping that will be the case if he applies for next year's Monsanto grant.

Kuhlman said if he applies and wins another grant, it will be put toward equipment to bolster the quality of the lab.

"I hope I retire before he does," Culver said. "Because he's always doing so much and he's going to be hard to replace."

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