Maintaining a native plant garden, West African dance lessons, learning about racism and creating self-care packages are some of the 21 projects that earned over $39,000 of grant funding from the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation this school year.
The foundation, through its annual Jeanie Ritchie Grants, announced on Oct. 30 that it will award grants that range from $400 to $5,400 to fund innovative projects in Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) classrooms during the 2020-21 school year.
"The ability for teachers to design and implement these projects dovetails with our teacher-leader culture, and the innovation and collaboration they inspire enriches our curriculum," said Erik Burmeister, the district's superintendent, in a prepared statement. "Through Jeanie Ritchie Grants, our district's core values of engagement, innovation, leadership, partnership, and perseverance are put into practice."
The mission of the grant program is to allow teachers to pursue innovative teaching programs in their classroom, grade or school, and to provide educational experiences that students would not have otherwise. The grant program began in 1984 to honor Ritchie, a founder of the education foundation. Each year, the program has grown since its inception. During the first grant cycle during the 1984-85 school year, eight projects were funded with a total of $2,200, according to the foundation.
"Year after year, they bring innovative ideas to our classrooms that support the MPCSD initiative for whole child learning and development," said Francie Maletis, chair of the grant committee and district parent, in a prepared statement. "In the face of very challenging times, we are incredibly grateful to our teachers for continuing to innovate and provide safe and engaging learning experiences for our students, both in the classroom and now at home."
Encinal Elementary teacher and grantee Karin Bloom shared "so much has changed, but our need to create has not."
Below are some of the programs funded by the grants:
Beyond the Comic Book Discovering Heroes in Literature: Jacky Shlegal and Libby Ellis will lead sixth graders at Hillview Middle School in two book clubs to delve into the question "who is and who is not a hero?" Participating students will be exposed to novels with protagonists from many different backgrounds and protagonists from different cultures broadening their view of what a hero might look like.
Djembe Jam!! West African Dance & Drumming for First Graders: Elizabeth Harrison will bring West African dance to first graders at Laurel Elementary School. Students will learn from master dancer, Alhassane Camara (Guinea), who will guide them through the motions and meaning of the dance. Students will attend four weekly workshops, learn to use their bodies in new and liberating ways, and at the end of the four weeks of instruction, Camara will bring his dance troupe and live drummers for a school assembly.
Drawn Together: Stephanie Noon will work with artist Mark Kistler, an author and expert in teaching art virtually, to teach kindergarten through eighth graders drawing skills, showing how drawing is fun, stress-relieving and community building.
From Maleficent to Thanos and Beyond ... Digital Humans are Coming: Valerie Cypert will work with Hillview Middle School students to prepare for and attend a presentation by Doug Roble, senior director of software research and development at the visual effects production company Digital Domain. Students will explore the convenience and entertainment that virtual technology adds to our lives, but also discuss the responsibilities and potential misuse of these technologies. Students will come away with the knowledge to answer questions such as "who will we choose to be in the virtual world?" and "how can we use these technologies to better our society rather than misinform people?"
Latin Music Workshop with Guitar: Harrison's first graders will learn about the science and aesthetics of the folk guitar, along with how it is played in different Latin American countries. They will learn traditional poems, songs and singing games set to live guitar with a native-Spanish speaking professional conservatory instructor. Marcelo Puig of Argentina will perform for parents on Día de las Madres, which is on May 10 in many Latin American countries.
Native Plant Garden: Allison Zeiser will expand a previously awarded Jeanie Ritchie Grant project at Oak Knoll Elementary to an additional third through fifth grade multi-age class for the ongoing care for a native plant garden. Over the years, students have developed creative ways of saving honeybees through project-based learning. The students will see and cultivate environmental and global activism.
Reading in French: Amy Kingsley's seventh and eighth grade French students will be given novels that are specifically designed for language learners and will reinforce the vocabulary and grammar that is being learned in class. She will also challenge students to read solely in French. Students will have the opportunity to read and interpret an entire novel instead of relying on textbooks for learning the language.
Sixth Grade Self-Care Care Packages: Cristine Sendejo Johnson's grant will provide all Hillview Middle School sixth graders all new to being in a middle school environment with self-care packages. The goal is to teach the students about healthy self-care habits. The different activities related to the kits will allow students to practice journaling, coloring, releasing tension, eating and sleeping.
StoryWalk: Reading specialist Jacqui Cebrian's project will connect elementary school students throughout the district with books during a time when book access is limited, and book sharing is complicated. This grant project focuses on manipulating traditional picture books to make them outdoor friendly. Laminated pages can be attached to fencing with zip ties and small removable rings. Students and their families will walk outside and read a picture book without having to touch it or worry about contamination. The project also encourages students to go outdoors and walk.
Whole School Anti-Racist Reading & Talking: Cebrian will also lead a project at Oak Knoll Elementary to empower students to tackle systemic racism and any other "isms" they find that keep people from achieving based solely on a physical trait. Teachers will read five books to students one a month from January to May. These books will be used to launch conversations about the role race has played in policy and how those systems can be improved. Staff will also receive support in facilitating these challenging conversations.
For more information about the grant program, go here.