From robotics to ceramics to music, the Dekko Foundation believes choice is a key ingredient in a child's education — and to prove it, they invested nearly $400,000 last year in Limestone County.

The Dekko Foundation invested $396,055.25 in area programs in 2018, according to the foundation's annual report. These grants helped children learn about theater arts, create their own art and increase key skills, like reading. One grant even helped children by helping their teachers develop professionally.

"Fostering economic freedom through education is our mission at the Dekko Foundation," the report said. "We do that by investing in projects that build skills, knowledge and character in young people from birth through age 18, helping them blossom into independent, self-reliant adults who are capable of producing more than they consume."

Lindsay Lane Christian Academy's robotics program was highlighted in the report as one example. The program received a $5,000 grant in 2018 for "increasing knowledge of robotics and other STEM-related subjects." STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The program is open to students in grades 7–12. Students choose which division of the team they want to join — marketing, technology or engineering — then set about designing, building or promoting a robot. The robot must be able to complete a specific set of tasks in a Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology event.

At each step in the process, there are choices to be made. How should the materials be used? What's the best way to complete the task? If something breaks, how should it be fixed? What do the judges need to know about the process?

"The whole real-world aspect of it all is wonderful because there's failure," LLCA teacher Kathryn DeWitt said in the report. "They have to take charge, fix it, keep their cool and not give up."

The Dekko Foundation praises programs like these, saying, "If learning environments don't allow (children) to practice making their own choices, how can they be expected to do so successfully as adults?"

Here are other learning environments and education choices the Dekko Foundation supported in 2018:

• Friendship United Methodist Church's Friendship Learning Center and Learning Through Play, total $6,000;

• Athens Arts League's Hands On Art for Youth, $2,900;

• Athens City Schools' winter guard, project-based learning professional development, "Kiln'in It" ceramics program and "Play"-ing with a Purpose fantasy playhouse at FAME Academy at Brookhill Elementary, total $100,250;

• David's Temple Missionary Baptist Church's Operation Timothy I and II (reading and character-building programs), total $9,000;

• Limestone County Schools' ceramics program, FFA Safety Day, Tanner High School FFA Greenhouse, Vision 2020 initiative and Ardmore High School shop equipment update, total $101,905.25;

• LLCA's Traveling Safely Together and The Zacchaeus Project initiatives, total $81,000;

• Boys & Girls Club of Athens-Limestone County's STEM lab expansion at Athens and Ardmore sites, $20,000;

• East Limestone Community Band Booster's Association Inc.'s "Save the Tubas" program, $50,000; and

• Limestone Area Community Foundation's TRAIL 2017-2018, $20,000.

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