Grant recipients are recognized during the annual Teachers’ Institute launching the new school year. Pictured, front row, from left: Liese Hearth, Bonnie Bucholz, Michelle Greco, Nikki Alessi, Ann Centers and Mary Govertsen. In the back row, from left, are Darien District 61 Educational Foundation board members Andrew Blumenfeld, Asma Akhras and Barbara Finnegan, along with teacher Kim Granback.

Foundation Teacher Grants Set Record for Number and Amount

It’s a new school year, and Darien District 61 teachers have lots of new ideas on how technology can be used to help students learn in their own way and even how they can think differently about learning. The Darien District 61 Educational Foundation is helping to bring those ideas into the classroom.

The foundation has awarded four teacher grants for the new school year totaling more than $7,900, setting a record in the number of grants and the amount of funding. In the past two years, the foundation has awarded a total of nearly $16,000 for teacher grants and student assistance, all to advance the organization’s mission: To provide supplemental funding for programs and initiatives to enhance the quality of education for students in Darien Public District 61.

“Each year has been better than the year before. It’s great to see an increase in our ability to award funding as well as an increase in the number of grant applications received,” says foundation chairwoman Barbara Finnegan.  “We would like to carry this momentum forward, and we can do that with the support of the community.”

Grant recipients for the 2012-2013 school year are:

Liese Hearth, art teacher at Mark DeLay School, was awarded a grant for her proposal titled “Make a Statement,” which aims to help younger students learn how to use technology and also improve their writing skills. Using iPads, students will use an educational website that serves as an online gallery of their artwork–for friends and family to see–where the studentswill write an “artist’s statement” about their work. In her proposal, Hearth writes that the program “is a great way for students to boost their self-esteem and pride in their work. Parents and friends have the opportunity to join a child’s ‘fan club’ where supportive comments can be left for the student. Students have the opportunity to see growth over the years to watch their art and writing develop.”

The third-, fourth- and fifth-grade resource teams at Lace School were awarded a grant for a program using iPads designed to increase student achievement.A small number of iPads dedicated to the school’s resource room will offer special education students alternative tools in learning,especially in reading and math. As Ann Centers, fifth-grade resource teacher, writes in the grant proposal: “Technology empowers the engagement of students in their learning.  … For example, the iPad offers a powerful interest incentive for students struggling with traditional paper-and-pencil academic tasks.  The proposed technology will offer innovative opportunities for learning through such activities as simulations, animations and individualized guided practice sets.”

Nikki Alessi, a special education teacher at Eisenhower Junior High, was awarded a grant to implement a program that will help students develop their “executive functioning” skills—such as strategic thinking, problem-solving, time management and goal-directed behaviors. As Alessi writes in her proposal:  “Although specific executive functioning skills are not identified independently among the state learning standards, they certainly ‘run behind the scenes’ of all learning standards. They are the scaffolding that student minds require in order to properly process and store their learning.”The program at EJH is intended to serve as a pilot project for a curriculum that could be adopted by the other schools in the district.

Bonnie Bucholz and Michelle Greco, third-grade teachers at Lace School, were awarded a grant for an expansion of a monthly after-school program started last yeardubbed “Reading with the Stars!” Through the program,a faculty or staff member—the “Star Reader”–introduces a favorite book, explainswhy it’s a favorite, and reads aloud from the story. As a new twist this year, local or regional authors will also make guest appearances to talk about their books and answer questions about being a professional writer. As Bucholz says in the grant proposal: “We hope to help foster the students’ love for reading by faculty and staff modeling our own love and excitement for reading books.”

This year’s grants are the third round of educational funding since the foundation was established in 2009. Last year, three grants were awarded totaling $5,400.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to help the foundation continue to fund additional programs for District 61 students in the years to come.