Steamboat Springs student Isaac Waters works on a computer in 2014.

John F. Russell/File

Steamboat Springs student Isaac Waters works on a computer in 2014.

Virtual reality could make its way to schools in Steamboat, Hayden

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— Virtual reality could make its way into classrooms in Steamboat Springs and Hayden next year, if proposed grants are funded using Steamboat’s half-cent sales tax for education.

Education Fund Grant Commission members, tasked with vetting grant requests for the tax money, discussed two different virtual reality grant applications during a meeting Wednesday.

“I think once people see this technology it’s going to sell itself,” said Diane Maltby, who is seeking $25,000 from the Education Fund for five zSpace computers to transport Steamboat Springs Middle School students using augmented reality software.

Maltby said three students at a time could use one zSpace laptop, which allows them to view 3D images and create 3D presentations. With five laptops, 15 students could be working at the same time.

“We could serve the needs of everybody with five machines,” said Maltby, who is seeking the money as part of an Education Fund innovation grant request.

Innovation grants are open to teachers and other school employees and must be used for an innovative idea, as determined by the grant commission.

Hayden Valley Elementary teacher Julie Cucuel is also seeking tax money to bring virtual reality to her students through a class set of goggles that would take students on virtual field trips.

In Cucuel’s request, she explains that students at the rural elementary school typically only go on two field trips per year, and many low-income students aren’t well traveled.

“When I’m in the classroom, and we’re reading about the ocean, several of the students have not experienced that,” Cucuel explained. “I think a great way to reach students would be through virtual reality.”

Cucuel has requested $7,700 through the Education Fund for a set of 20 virtual reality goggles and accessories, but she said the school would be grateful to receive just 10 sets of goggles.

“I would envision that all of our teachers would have the opportunity to use the goggles, and that they would be stored in the media center and checked in and out,” she said.

Maltby’s and Cucuel’s requests drew interest from several commission members at the end of Wednesday’s meeting, but they are just two of the six innovation grant applications the group is reviewing this spring.

Overall, the Education Fund is looking at more than $4.4 million in requests from school districts, community groups and innovation grant applicants for this spring’s grant cycle.

The Education Fund Board’s latest numbers suggest the group may have about $3.4 million available to grant, though final budget numbers have not been set.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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