‘Share it forward’: Cleveland tech facilitator shares passion, opportunities with students

Published 12:05 am Thursday, October 13, 2016

By Rebecca Rider


SALISBURY — Lynn Bradley walks around the newly minted outdoor classroom at Cleveland Elementary. The space is just a few weeks old, having been constructed by volunteers on the United Way’s Day of Caring. The wood of the shelter is still new, and the benches have a fresh coat of paint, but the small, fenced-in corner still needs something.

In one corner, Bradley has plans for a small greenhouse, just large enough to grow vegetables. In another, she sees a space for hydro- and aquaponics and room for eager learners to run weather experiments. The beginnings of the experiments lie inside Bradley’s science lab — a space that used to be Cleveland Elementary’s old kindergarten annex. All were paid for by grants Bradley won.

Bradley has served as Cleveland Elementary’s technology facilitator for approximately three years. In that time, she estimates that she’s been awarded nearly $40,000 in grants for the school. She said she writes as many grants as she can “get her hands on,” dreaming up activities for everything from cooking to coding. And she does it all in her free time.

“It’s just my passion,” she said.

As a technology facilitator, Bradley pulls the whole school under her wing, but that wasn’t always the case.

She started her career as a chef, but quit to stay home with her children. But being a stay-at-home mom didn’t suit Bradley, and when her children went to school, so did she. Bradley said she wanted to do something,“but I didn’t know what that was.”

Bradley’s children attended Woodleaf Elementary, and Bradley threw herself into volunteer work at the school — she estimates that she worked about 37 hours a week at the school, helping out wherever she could.

And others took notice. Three teachers at Woodleaf took Bradley under their wing, and helped launch her into a teaching career.

She recalls a ‘lightbulb moment’ she had watching students in her child’s first grade classroom singing and eagerly participating in an activity.

“Students when they experience something they remember it, and then they have the ability to love it too,” she said.

And it was something she wanted to be a part of. Bradley calls the premise “share it forward.”

“They shared with me their passion and I would like to share with everyone else my passion,” she said of her mentors.

For the past 20 years, that’s been her goal. Bradley fell in love with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and went back to school, pursuing a master’s degree in the subject. When she graduated, she scooped up a job teaching science at West Rowan Middle School.

It was there that she won her first grant, allowing her to purchase a 3D printer for the school. The impact on her class was incredible.

“When I saw the excitement in the students, that just pushed me even further,” she said.

When the one-to-one initiative was introduced, Bradley saw her chance to have a bigger impact. Instead of working with a class of 30, as a technology facilitator she could inspire 300. For Bradley, it’s all about sharing that passion.

“Their education has to have something better than a video game. They need to be excited and challenged,” she said of students.

Her goal is to help every student at Cleveland discover their own passion. And Bradley dreams big. She wants to pull in volunteers and start a project where community members can come in and record a video where they talk about their passion — whether it’s engineering or spinning wool — or where people walk students through a career.

“I just want to share the excitement, because how are we going to ignite passion?” she said.

If she can help provide a guitar for a musical child, or an engineering set for a future engineer “that makes it all worth it.”

At Cleveland, Bradley uses her spare time to fill in the gaps. She writes grants for 3D printers, hydroponics and robotics. She gets discounted virtual reality headsets in exchange for writing reviews, and she’s built an entire engineering corner. But she also collects gently used musical instruments for students to use and provided a fidget bar to help a hyperactive student focus during class. She’s got the support of her school, too. Whenever Bradley writes a grant, she gives the school principal, Rebecca Kepley-Lee, a heads up.

“I just say, ‘Ok I’ve written another grant,’ and she says, ‘Well how much are we getting this time?’” Bradley said.

When the aquaponics project and greenhouse are up and running, Bradley wants to send home the produce with students in the school’s backpack program.

“It just keeps snowballing …. I hope I’ve helped,” she said.

Bradley is currently racing for two national grants through Toms of Maine and Voya, and runs several smaller campaigns on Donors Choose that cover everything from cooking to coding.

“I want to share it with the world. This is not me doing this — it’s all for them,” she said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.