Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Education Awards Celebration
Story: The Sparkly Stellafly
Photography: Tim Motley
The Sparkly Stellafly found herself in a room full of amazing teachers who had plenty of warm and fuzzy moments to share on Wednesday night. The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park hosted the Education Awards Celebration, an event recognizing the efforts of 38 teachers from throughout Grand Rapids who received a combined total of over $121,000 in mini grants from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF), as part of their Good Schools & Good Classrooms program.
Diana Sieger, GRCF President, welcomed the group which included parents, teachers, students, members of the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) board, GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, Mayor George Heartwell, and members of the GRCF’s Good School Selection Committee, who reviewed and selected the recipients of these grants.
Sieger applauded the teachers for their efforts in bringing so many innovative ideas to life—ideas that are having an impact on the students and their families. She told those in the room that in the past year alone, the GRCF has given $3 million to support education by funding teacher projects, programs, and student scholarships. She then introduced Kevin Kammeraad, author, artist, and puppeteer who entertained the group for a bit before presenting a little bit of background on each recipient’s project.
Several of the grantees were there to talk about and demonstrate what the grant money did for them and the impact that each is having. For example, exercise balls have replaced the standard classroom chair in the 2nd grade classrooms at Sibley Elementary. Teachers Bernice Wisnieski and Mary Engelsman said that this alternative seating has reduced the number of “behavior referrals” as the kids have become more focused.
The Wellerwood Early Childhood Center/Ken-O-Sha Preschool received six grants totaling around $24,000, allowing them to purchase iPads, alternative communication devices, books, and adaptive seating for children with special needs. They created a “lending library,” allowing parents borrow them for anywhere from a few days to the entire school year. They may want to try out some of these therapies for their child before buying it, or may not be able to afford the cost of purchasing them. Dr. Denise Ludwig, principal, said her favorite part of this process was how empowered the teachers became by going through the grant writing process from start to finish. She said it was “the best form of professional development” her staff could ask for.
At Grand Rapids Christian Middle School, teacher Judy Rooy led 200 fifth and sixth grade students in an activity that was part economics lesson, part philanthropy lesson. For eight weeks, these students gave up their lunch hours to making hand-sewn items, reclaimed art, and taking photos of what they felt was appealing around the school and turned them into greeting cards. All of these items were sold to purchase special apps for iPads that will help their special needs students communicate more effectively. The grant money they received was used to purchase 2 iPads, sewing machines, digital cameras, and software.
These were just a sampling of the amazing talent and creativity we have in Grand Rapids, and the teachers there were representing all teachers who have such a tremendous passion for their work and seeing their students succeed. This is just one of the ways that Grand Rapids Community Foundation is making a difference. If you would like to learn more about the impact this organization is having, and how you can be involved, visit their website at www.grfoundation.org.