Dan Miley of West Middle School tests a plane that was built by a student, along with Jeremy Haymon, left, and Abe Iyengar in the school's engineering lab.

Doherty Middle School parents couldn't do it on their own. Neither could the Andover Coalition for Education or the Andona Society.

But together, they were able to engineer a big addition to Doherty Middle School.

Helped by a sizable donation from Merrimack College, the groups say they will be able to add a new engineering lab and program to Doherty Middle that Superintendent Claudia Bach says will be fiscally sustainable.

Teacher Dan Miley has created the program at West Middle School the past two years. The engineering lab is meant to help students make connections between math and science -- and turn them on to the subjects. The students tackle subjects such as "toy surgery" and rocket building that provide hands-on ways to learn.

Previously, Doherty Middle had a rocket program offered by teacher Robert Bachman. But that was an elective for 30 to 40 kids per year. "This course will touch every kid, every year," said Doherty Principal Bruce Maki.

The engineering lab will be part of the school's integrated arts program, during which each student rotates through a variety of classes, also including art, drama, health and music.

Andover educators say they have seen freshman in the engineering school at Olin College performing the same bottle-rocket project.

"It is such a central way to integrate math and science," Bach said. "People talk about, 'all kids are engineers.' They play with blocks and Legos. But we all struggle with how to do it."

They believe the pilot program started by Miley is the way.

And parents also believe they've come upon a new formula to launch such projects -- and excite people who might be tired of all the fundraisers out there each year. They pool their money to create an exciting project, rather than always work separately on smaller projects.

While Doherty is able to hire the engineering teacher with money from a retiring computer teacher, Merrimack College's donation is also aimed to cover the cost of the teacher.

The Andover Coalition for Education, Andona and the Doherty Parent Advisory Council have all added funds to get the lab started and stocked with equipment. The Andover Coalition for Education and the PAC kicked in $7,000 each, and Andona added $5,000.

"We've now set a precedent for establishing a new line of communication," said Andona president Paula Colby-Clements. "When you don't have $50,000, but you have $5,000, suddenly you can make things happen."

"We wanted to really have something that made a difference," said Florence Black, Doherty PAC co-president. "We wanted to do a sizable donation that the parents could understand where the money was really going."

Shari Wilson, Doherty PAC co-president, said future fundraisers involving all three middle school parent groups are being considered.

"Because we all have the same goal. It's to benefit the children. We (the Doherty PAC) can do events, but it's 100 people," Wilson said.

Tina Girdwood, the volunteer director of ACE, said the engineering program is exciting in part because it seems to engage students who aren't necessarily gung ho about traditional math and science classes.

"The engineering classes might also grab the girls' attention," Irene Pien said. "It gives them the experience and opportunity. They might not sign up for an after-school program that seems too (boyish) or too techy for them."

Get involved

To join Andona check out www.andonasociety.org, or visit the next Andona social on May 31 at Memorial Hall Library at 7:30 p.m.

To join the Doherty Middle PAC, join the regular meeting on the first Thursday of every month at the school's library. It is only open to parents of Doherty Middle students.

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