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Gavin Adams, an eighth-grader at Falcon Middle School, tests out the zSpace virtual technology inside D-49’s Expeditions bus. A $1 million Department of Defense Education Activity grant similar to the one the district just received paid for retired school bus No. 37 to be converted into a mobile classroom featuring zSpace virtual technology.

Falcon School District 49 has been awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to boost the math skills of military-affiliated students.

The grant, dubbed "Mission DNA (Deploying Numeracy Achievement): The Building Blocks of Mathematical Minds," is the third consecutive one the district has received from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity. In all, the district has been awarded $5 million from the agency.

Past grants focused on restorative practices and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education, said Lou Fletcher, director of culture and services at the district and an Air Force retiree.

But this grant focuses squarely on numeracy, in an effort to dispel the myth that "math is hard," he said.

"Math can be a lot easier, but there are a lot of taboos around it," Fletcher said. "Being able to have excellent math teachers" who can answer questions effectively and explain algorithms decreases anxiety around the subject, he said.

Elements of the grant will work at helping students to get "rid of negative self-talk and mindset" surrounding math, he said. 

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"People will tell girls, 'Girls don't have to be good at math,'" he said. "Moms and dads will say, 'Our family's not good at math.' If a kid doesn't get it right away, they'll say, 'My family can't do math; math is impossible.'"

Helping teachers sharpen their skills when it comes to teaching the subject will helps students become more comfortable with the often daunting subject, he said.

The grant will fund professional development for elementary teachers at 12 schools and expand the district's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming.

Just over 20% of the school's students are military dependents. That number rises to about a quarter when you count those who are military connected, with parents who have served and exited the armed forces, Fletcher said.

While the grant is intended to benefit them, all students reap the rewards, he said.

"It's great to have military kids," Fletcher said. "We get more cool stuff."

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