Dec. 4, 2013 By Tara Cavanaugh Last month the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation distributed $9,228 in grants from its Karen Thomas Fund to nine teachers, media specialists and administrators.
The fund, named for the late wife of Board of Education Trustee Andy Thomas, provides grants for elementary school programs and projects that promote literacy, support academic retention, and supply reading materials for media centers.
The grant awardees are: Haisley media specialist Kim McLean, K-5 Curriculum Coordinator Rose Marie Callahan, Abbot media specialist Christina Postema, Carpenter media specialist Sharl Burau, Mitchell media specialist Anne Reader, Abbot Principal Pam Sica, Allen media specialist Amy Rodriguez, Eberwhite media specialists Jeri Schneier and Chrissy Postema, and Mitchell ELL teacher Susan Atkins.
Atkins is using her Karen Thomas grant for a family literacy project next spring. It’ll be a series of after-school workshops that parents will attend with their students. “The goal of it is to prepare parents a bit better for the kind of academic work around literacy that their kids are doing in school,” Atkins said. In pairs, parents will read texts with their children and author their own book –– which can be written in their native language and also in English –– that is based on a family story.
“It’s important for our parents to be able to converse and go through a school experience with their children,” Atkins said. “It will help develop that bridge that we know is really important between home and school.
“I am very thankful for this grant,” Atkins added. “It’s going to provide me the opportunity to do this exciting project that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do, at least to this magnitude.”
The grant also supplied a district-wide initiative to put a new series of science books in all elementary school media centers. The books, which can be checked out by teachers, are appropriate for lessons in grades K-5. The books are called Picture Perfect Science Books. They provide an integrated approach to learning science, combining it with lessons in reading, writing and math, said K-5 Curriculum Coordinator Rose Marie Callahan.
Thurston Elementary’s PTO purchased a set of the books last year, and teachers “have been raving about how it’s energized their approach to writing and integrated science with English language arts,” Callahan said. The book series pairs fiction and nonfiction texts with science lessons. Callahan hopes that the series helps boost students’ understanding of science by connecting the concepts with other subjects.
The Picture Perfect Science Books bring another benefit, too. “There’s so many requests now to change instruction in response to the Common Core standards. For teachers, it can be hard to be inspired to do that without resources. So now it’s wonderful to have that opportunity to bring something across the district. It’s going to reach every kid in K-5, in all buildings.” The grant supplied by AAPSEF will be matched with funds from AAPS. “Thank you big time to the Foundation and AAPS for stepping up with the rest of it,” Callahan said. “I know it’s a hard time to spend any money and to decide where it goes, and I really appreciate their support on both sides.”
Allen Elementary media specialist Amy Rodriguez received a Karen Thomas grant to purchase informational and science-based books for the school’s media center. Rodriguez, after comparing the library’s science book collection to the science units taught at each grade level, identified areas in the library that needed up-to-date books. The grant will allow her to order 33 books that teachers can check out and read to their students or make available for students to read in their classrooms.
“Helping students gain comfort and skill in reading and understanding informational text is necessary,” Rodriguez said. “Additionally, the Common Core standards emphasize the importance of students’ ability to read and analyze informational text. The other teachers and I work to provide the students with frequent experiences with informational text.
“I would like to thank the Ann Arbor Public Schools Education Foundation and those who coordinate the Karen Thomas Fund,” Rodriguez continued. “Their gift of money toward new science books for our school media center will greatly benefit the students and staff at Allen Elementary.”