Building A Future For Our Young Men


Building A Future For Our Young Men

The Campaign For Avon—Building A Future For Our Young Men

As hands-on learners, boys respond well to technology when it comes to learning not only science, engineering, and math, but also digital arts, robotics, and 3-D design. As Avon Old Farms looked toward the future and strategized about projects to take on through the Inspiring Boys, Building Men campaign, a need to focus on building out an engineering and robotics center was realized.

“Avon is committed to providing students with opportunities in and out of the classroom to develop the technological skills necessary to meet the challenges of higher education and the world beyond,” said Director of Development & External Affairs Jim Detora. “To ensure that this is done to the best ability, we needed to create a dedicated space to support a broader curriculum in mathematics and engineering as well as the digital arts, capped by an innovative computer lab.”

In 2015, Detora, an engineer by trade, saw Avon’s Forge and Water Tower as the prime opportunity to do just that.

“The forge was a natural fit, given its history,” said Detora. “We began thinking about the project in early 2015 and started renovations that summer.”

In November 2015, the Edward E. Ford Foundation awarded Avon a $50,000 matching grant for these projects. In December 2015 this grant, along with Jim Detora’s description of his vision for the STEM program, inspired generous gifts from the Elizabeth Ferry Speer Foundation and the Teel’s Marsh Foundation. John Drew P’85, P’87, GP’17, GP’18 and Chris Drew ’85, P’17, P’18 are the Co-Trustees of the Elizabeth Ferry Speer Foundation. The Teel’s Marsh Foundation was established by Dorothy Bayley Kane, the mother of John’s wife, Barbara. Chris is currently serving as a Co-Trustee of the Teel’s Marsh Foundation.

Once the renovations were complete, the blending of traditional and modern architectural elements were a tribute to our school’s culture of honoring tradition and inspiring excellence. In the Forge, original fireplaces used to build our campus set the backdrop for studying principles of engineering, and engineering & design development classes. Students now study modern methods at collaborative work tables and white boards while taking inspiration from the energy that still lives in the historic building.

The following year, Avon took another step in making purposeful use of the space – an open area of the Forge was converted into the home of the robotics program, complete with a practice competition ring, four 3-D printers, and work tables.

“Next, our talented team was able to re-envision the Water Tower as a state-of-the-art computer lab, complete with 14 dual-boot work stations,” continued Detora.

In the Tower, students cannot help but look up at the height of the water tower stretching above them and push themselves to reach new heights. The computers in the Volk Family Computer Lab are loaded with CAD software, and another 3-D printer allows for printing of student-designed models. Teachers can move from one student’s station to the next with ease while keeping an eye on all the screens at once.

Inspired by the developments already realized, the Teel’s Marsh Foundation and the Elizabeth Ferry Speer Foundation have generously contributed another $500,000 this fall to the Inspiring Boys, Building Men capital campaign designated to the engineering and robotics initiative.

“Our goal in making this gift is to ensure that Avon has the financial support it needs to be a leader in boys’ education, and a large part of that we believe is having a terrific STEM program,” commented Chris Drew ’85, father of Carson ’17 and Brian ’18.

This intergenerational gift is just the latest piece in the Drew Family’s ongoing commitment to Avon Old Farms School: John Drew served on the Board of Directors from 1981 – 2002; Chris Drew served on the National Council from 2005 – 2016, at which point he joined the Board of Directors.

“Ken LaRocque has done an amazing job of assembling and leading a team of faculty that is committed to helping young men achieve their full potential,” Drew continued. “The community’s continued philanthropic support of Avon enables these educators to do what they need to in the classroom to bring learning to life­­—our gifts provide opportunity for today’s students.”

Detora continued to say that the renovated spaces made possible by these funds will provide a multitude of opportunities to the growing engineering and computer science classes.

“This space is all-inclusive now, and will allow us to offer more specific classes that our students are interested in,” Detora said. “Our goal has always been to build and support programs that our boys want, and this is a prime example of meeting that goal. We have such a talented pool of Avonians on our campus – all they need are the tools to let their visions become reality.”

What’s Happened So Far

Since its beginning in 2015 with the introduction of the first engineering courses (Principles of Engineering and Introduction to Engineering and Design), the STEM program at Avon has grown by leaps and bounds. In the 2016-2017 school year, 57 students were enrolled across three elective STEM courses: Principles of Engineering, Introduction to Engineering Design, and Engineering Applications and Architecture. The following year, two new STEM courses were added to Avon’s curriculum: Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science Principles.

The introduction of Computer Science Principles course offers a low-risk avenue for those not planning to make a college major of computer science a way to navigate our increasingly digital world – and maybe even influence it.

“I have really driven these students all over the road, moving from Bootstrap, to CSS, to HTML,” explained faculty member Joe Thompson when asked about what his students have learned since his Computer Science Principles course began in the fall of 2017.

“We've done some serious rearranging of the stock CodeHS curriculum mainly because these guys are smart and have a lot of energy,” Thompson said. “We started the year with some JavaScript and Python, but then I realized that they had had enough lessons and exercises within the relatively closed CodeHS world. So recently, I asked them to try making something with very few restrictions.”

Thompson shared that within a couple of days, the products his students were creating were some of the most impressive things he’s seen in his four-year history as a computer science teacher.

In the year-long Aerospace Engineering course, students progress through four units of study: Introduction to Aerospace, Aerospace Design, Propulsion, and Alternative Applications. This translates into a variety of hands-on learning, including practicing on flight simulators using special software and game controller joysticks; designing airfoils to study fluid mechanics; learning about propulsion through flying model rockets; and even designing airplane components and creating them with the help of a 3-D printer. Students are learning basic orbital mechanics using industry-standard software, and will even explore robot systems through projects such as remotely operated vehicles.

"When we were looking to add a new course to our list of current offerings, it was a combination of looking at what staff we had available, what their expertise is in, and what we thought would be interesting to our students," said Beth McCubbin, an engineering teacher at Avon Old Farms. "A course in Aerospace Engineering seemed to be the perfect fit."

McCubbin shared that the most rewarding part of this new class has been to hear so many students ask, What if?

“It means they’re thinking outside of the box and letting their minds explore the possibilities,” she said. “That’s what learning is all about. Some have even inquired about getting a pilot’s license.”

In all, in the 2017-18 school year, 77 students elected to enroll in the seven available STEM courses. This fall Avon’s STEM program has seen continued growth. Students were offered additional new courses, including Mobile Application Development and Engineering Design and Development.

“We have been really impressed with how Avon has grown its STEM program in such a short period of time,” continued Drew. “Our hope is that when students participate in Avon’s new and improved STEM program it may spark an interest in them that prompts them to take STEM classes in college and perhaps even lead them to a career in a STEM field.”

An important component of the Inspiring Boys, Building Men campaign is to grow Avon’s endowment. Chris Drew described why his family is supporting this aspect of the campaign: “Our family sees tremendous advantages to Avon if the school can continue to grow its endowment.  Our gifts to the endowment supporting the STEM program will provide a reliable ongoing source of income to fund programs for today’s students and for all future Avonians.”

To date, $1,112,500 has been raised to support the campaign’s engineering and robotics initiative. The campaign has a goal of raising a total of $50 million, with $42 million already in. To learn more about the Inspiring Boys, Building Men campaign, visit