A2STEAM at Northside Media Specialist Anne Reader intends to do some heavy-duty shopping over the next few weeks, and it has nothing to do with the holidays.
Reader is one of 58 AAPS educators who just learned she’ll receive a Great Idea Grant from the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation.
On her shopping list: Books, books, and more books.
“I applied for the grant because we have double the amount of students we’ve had in the past and are becoming a middle school,” said the aptly named Reader, referring to the jump in student population from 180 to 405 when Northside became A2STEAM at Northside this fall.
In all, the foundation will give $83, 919 to fund 42 projects that range from a seventh grade trip to the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn to quarter-size cellos to a large playground mural.
This year’s Great Idea Grants are particularly generous thanks to an anonymous $100,000 donation over the summer, said Executive Director Linh Song. Last year, about $24,000 was awarded.
“The idea of the Great Idea Grant is to fund initiatives that would not otherwise be funded because of lack of funds from the school district,” said Song. “It’s also a way for teachers to express some immediate and long-term needs. So if they want to fund a field trip or an experience for their class and are unsure they want to repeat again, this is a way we can fund it as a test case.”
The committee reviews each application on its own merits, but also to see it fits within the specific funding requirement for each grant. The foundation has established family funds to satisfy a variety of needs, all of which enrich students’ lives in some way.
Trustee Andy Thomas explained that when the Board of Education trimmed the budget a couple of years ago, the board had to eliminate funding for media centers.
“That’s had an effect on all of our schools, but it’s especially had an effect where there’s a significant number of kids coming from low-income households,” he said. “This is one of the ways we can make that up.”
That’s why Thomas is particularly pleased that Dicken Elementary will receive $5,000 to restock its book inventory.
“Their stock has become outdated and they haven’t been able to replace a lot of the books they’ve wanted to,” he said. “Some of them don’t quite relate to today’s kids as much as they’d like. They also wanted to get more that relate to minorities and people of color.”
Thomas set up the memorial Karen Thomas Fund shortly after his wife died in 2008 after a long battle with breast cancer. Karen Thomas was a writer who believed that literacy is the single most important skill to be learned in school, and she regularly volunteered to help with classroom book orders, reading clubs and “March Is Reading Month,” even while undergoing chemotherapy.
“I wanted to find a way to honor her spirit and her love of reading,” Thomas said. “Karen owned an extensive collection of collectable children’s books, and I donated many of them to be sold at a silent auction. I also offered to match contributions to the fund, and this is how we developed our initial seed money.”
The first award from that fund was in 2009, and supported the teaching of classic children’s literature at Pittsfield Elementary School.
“We continue to solicit donations from the community,” Thomas said. “This year, we awarded over $10,000 to our elementary schools to support various reading programs.”
Another Great Idea Grant goes to Bryant Elementary for books that are good to read aloud.
“We’re trying to engage the parents and other community members in reading to the students,” he said.
Grants Committee chair Melinda Colquitt said she was surprised there was such a large consensus among committee members about what to fund, considering that this year the group was evenly split between younger members and retirees.
Though she believes each grant is valuable, she has a few favorites.
“The Science Extravaganza always excites us,” she said, explaining that Huron High School at the end of the year invites its feeder elementary schools to Huron as they present science experiments for them.
Colquitt said this year there was an emphasis on early education.
“Many of us are coming to the conclusion that if you help at the beginning, kids will have more success later,” she said. “It’s late by the time they get to middle school and high school, so we granted a lot of books at the lower elementary level. One project asked for packets books that they could give out at the kindergarten round-up so the kids and their parents would work on them over the summer before they arrived for kindergarten. I think that’s extremely important.”
School Board President Deb Mexicotte said she was so inspired by the Karen Thomas Fund that she recently decided to establish a fund in her own family’s name, Chambers.
On Monday afternoon, she and Song surprised Pattengill Elementary teacher consultant Barb Gildersleeve with news that she had won $3,453 from that fund to purchase assisted technology to meet the sensory, movement and focus needs of students, some of whom are at-risk.
“We will put this to very good use,” said Gildersleeve. “The things on our list will make a huge impact for many of our students.”
Mexicotte said special education needs is close to her heart.
“I am excited to start a grant program in an area that has touched my family and the families and students of so many of my colleagues and friends in Ann Arbor,” said Mexicotte, who is the former first chair of the Ann Arbor Parents Advisory Committee for special education that was formed by the district in December 2001.
The foundation received a record-setting 90 applications this year.
Reader said the $5000 grant will give a big boost to the collection at A2STEAM’s media center, which is now too small, and doesn’t meet the maturity level for middle schoolers.
“I have shoe boxes full of requests for books the students said they’d like to see in here,” said Reader. “It will be fun to go shopping.”
For a complete list of the grant awards, click on:
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