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Local foundations grants fund twists on teaching
iPad in classroom
Students in Natalie Powell's special education prekindergarten/kindergarten class at Mattie Lively Elementary work on letter identification using a classroom iPad earlier this month. - photo by Special

Ten mini-grants will buy a total of six iPads at three Bulloch County schools, enable cartoon-based learning on two campuses and fund a Georgia history field trip, a lunchtime book club, a school play, a motivational speaker and the Whoville Shopping Village.

Not from the government or some billionaire, these are the 2014 Spring Innovation Grants from the Foundation for Public School Education in Bulloch County. Founded in 2006, the tax-deductible nonprofit supported by local donors has provided teachers, exclusively in Bulloch County's public schools, $120,141 for innovative teaching projects since launching the grants in 2007.

This school year the grants total $19,626, including $10,000 in the fall and now, $9,626 in the spring round. The maximum for each grant is $1,000, which is the actual award in most cases.

"These teachers who are applying for these grants are doing a great job where they're really thinking outside the box on what it is the best way to teach our kids not only the skill set that is designed into the curriculum, but really creating ways for them to learn to succeed in life," said Foundation for Public School Education Chairman Chad Wiggins.

He made formal presentations of the spring grants at the March 13 Bulloch County Board of Education meeting.

‘Comic relief'

At Langston Chapel Middle School, a $1,000 grant will fund a "Comic Relief-Graphic Approach to Listening" for the roughly 250 students in sixth grade.

Language arts teacher Sandra Kirby and science teacher Michelle Broucek were the applicants, but the project also involves social studies teachers.

The grant will provide a one-year subscription to an Internet-based service called Pixton for Schools, which students will use to create cartoons, choosing characters, posing them on selected backgrounds and writing dialogue.

"If they're doing planets, the characters would travel from planet to planet, and students would create the backgrounds, the dialogue that goes on between the characters about what's happening on each planet," Kirby gave as an example.

Earlier this school year, the LCMS teachers tried a trial version of the Pixton software. They hope that creating cartoons will promote interest in writing and increase retention of social studies and science concepts, the teachers hope. The grant budget also includes the cost of toner, paper and laminating film so students' cartoons can be printed, protected and displayed.

Whoville, year 3

Meanwhile, another $1,000 grant will ensure that the Whoville Shopping Village makes a third annual appearance at Brooklet Elementary School in May. First-grade teachers Dawn Knight and Nancy Smith were the applicants, but the project involves the entire first grade.

For about two hours on a single day, the Dr. Seuss-themed project turns five classrooms into shops the children visit to spend play money on real things they can take home and keep. The village includes a combination bookstore and "pet store," with plush toys, an apparel shop with things such as hats and sunglasses, and a jewelry shop where children can buy bracelets and necklaces or make their own.

Smith's classroom becomes the Hop on Pop Shop, where children can buy jump ropes and balls or play a high-energy dance game on a Wii console. A snack shop offers real snacks, too, but students are limited to one visit.

Whoville-related learning begins two to three weeks earlier, when students start earning the play money, Smith said. They get it as rewards for good behavior and jobs such as tidying up around the school. The children keep the money in their Whoville wallets.

"They have a ball," Smith said. "It's really worthwhile because it's teaching them to value reading because it's tied in with Dr. Seuss and they can buy books, but also social studies lessons on buying and spending."

Math, too, she added: "They have to budget their money so they don't spend it all in one place."

Two years ago, the Brooklet teachers launched the project using items donated by parents. A mini-grant last year allowed them to expand it. Parents still donate some items, but the project would have to be scaled down without the grant, Smith said.

iPads and more

At each of three campuses, $1,000 will buy two iPads plus software. That's the case with "iTeach and They Learn with iPads" proposed by teacher Michelle Fields at Nevils Elementary School, "Alternative Education iPads for Instruction" from teacher Kristell Jones Turner and Administrator Tim Rountree at Transitions Learning Center, and "Making Shakespeare Accessible Through Technology: Improving Reading with iPads" by teacher Linda Fix at Southeast Bulloch High School.

The other cartoon-based project is also at Southeast Bulloch High, where teachers Ashleigh Wright and Tiffany Todd proposed "Social Studies Literacy through Cartoons," with high-graphics textbooks for U.S. history and government classes.

At Portal Middle High School, Elizabeth Garvin won a $1,000 grant to launch a Lunch Bunch Book Club. At Brooklet Elementary, Yvette Ledford received the same amount for "Around the World in Seven Plays." Students will work through six scripts from various cultures on their way to performing "Alice in Cyberland," tentatively scheduled for April 23.

Two grants were proposed and funded at less than $1,000. At Mattie Lively Elementary, teacher Christie Page received $876 for "Capturing the Essence of Georgia through the Savannah River," a trip for second-graders to Savannah's Historic District. Langston Chapel Elementary School faculty members applied for and received $750 to bring in "Mr. E. the Motivator" to psych up students in a pep rally before the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

New for this year, the Foundation for Public School Education is planning a talent show as a fundraiser for its grants and other work and a fun event involving all the schools. "You've Got Talent" is slated for May 10 at the Statesboro High School auditorium.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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