Denison Education Foundation distributes fall classroom grants

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Students at Lamar Elementary pose for a photo with a grant check from the Denison Education Foundation for new C-Pen readers for the school. The grant was among four that was given to teachers throughout the district as a part of the Fall 2020 grant cycle.

The Denison Education Foundation awarded nearly $11,600 in  grants for teachers last week as a part of its fall 2020 grant cycle. The foundation presented four teachers with checks in support of projects that they would like to implement in the classroom, but have not been funded by the district's budget.

Each year, the foundation accepts proposals from teachers about projects they would like the foundation to help support, with prices traditionally falling in the range of $2,000-5,000. 

To date, just under $850,000 in grants has been awarded by the DEF.

"The main goal of our foundation is to fund classroom projects that are not funded by the school district's budget," said Lisa Crawley, representing the foundation. "So we cover anything above and beyond that is creative and innovating that is not covered by the district."

While the proposals are submitted by the teachers, Crawley said the true focus is on the impact that these purchases will have on the classroom and Denison students.

"The main thing is the students and the number of students that will be affected," Crawley said.

This grant cycle saw 10 applicants submit proposals, and four projects were ultimately supported by the foundation. A common trend with this year's cycle was a focus on read and assistance for students with dyslexia.

Lamar Elementary Teacher Carol Millerick used the grant cycle to build on a previous  grant that was used to purchase C-Pen readers for students in the school's dyslexia program. The small, pocket-sized device is equipped with a small camera that can be  drawn across a line of text. The reader will then read the text out loud for the student to hear.

"So what we do is have our dyslexic students carry them with them throughout the day so their 504 accommodations can be met," she said, referring to requirements for dyslexic students to have work read to them, if needed. "So, the C-Pen gives them the independence so they don't have to be constantly raising their hand and asking the teacher."

The  devices will also assist the teacher as they will not need to disrupt the flow of the class to assist the one student.

Millerick said the school was previously awarded a grant to purchase two cases of the devices, but the school is experience a need for them as more students have been diagnosed with the learning disorder.

"I am a dyslexia teacher here at Lamar and out numbers of dyslexic students have climbed over the past three years," she said, citing state rules that require screening for it in Kindergarten and early education.

With the purchase of an additional case, Millerick said she would have enough for all of her students, at least for now. As more students are diagnosed, there may be additional need. She noted that dyslexia testing has been delayed due tot he pandemic, and there may be other undiagnosed cases in the school.

Kelly Pyle with Mayes Elementary also wanted to help her students with reading books by utilizing an audio component. Pyle requested $2,144 to purchase new audio books not only for use not only with her dyslexic students but for the entire campus.

"The project that I proposed  came from just working with my dyslexic students regularly every day, she said. "The library isn't something you'd expect to be an unfriendly place for anyone, especially kids who are usually excited to check out the books. However, for dyslexic students and those having difficulty reading, it is hard enough to read horizontally, let alone along on a shelf where they have words vertically."

Pyle plans to use these funds to purchase20 devices that will come loaded with the books. In total, the grant will fund about 44 titles for the devices. Each audio book will also come with a paper version so that students can listen and read at the same time.

"It is giving them access to content that they wouldn't have access to if they were reading on their own," Pyle said.

In addition to the audio books, Pyle also plans to buy several sets of books that come equipped with a device in the cover that will read each page out loud to the students.

The largest grant for $4,517 was awarded to Davina Mason of Hype Park Elementary for programing designed to support early engineering through science, technology and math learning as a part of the HeadStart program.

"I believe STEM activities promote perseverance in that we must overcome the failure philosophy and continue to try until we make something work. It promotes finding new and inventive ways to achieve that," Mason said in the project summary.

The final grant was not limited to one single campus and instead covered all elementary schools in the district. Jena James requested funds to turn an unused classroom into a sensory room that would assist students with sensory sensitivity.