Each year, the Chatham Education Foundation awards Creative Teaching Grants to Chatham County Schools’ teachers going above and beyond for their students. In the past, CEF has funded projects covering a wide range of educational opportunities from Exceptional Children resources to literacy tools to arts programming to STEM projects to pickleball. This year, CEF received 26 proposals from 14 schools and one district-wide. Of these, CEF is fully funding 9 projects and partially funding 8 projects. CEF awarded $16,927 in grant money for the 17 awards, up from $12,800 in 2022.
“All twenty-six projects submitted were worth funding,” said David Hilliard, CEF Board Chair. “It was tough to say ‘no’ to any of them. We had planned to increase our budget to $15,000 this year, but we felt we needed to stretch it a little further to see these 17 projects along.”
Preference for funding is given to projects that will positively impact larger numbers of students. Dr. Laurie Ward, a Briar Chapel resident who is an English teacher at Jordan Matthews High School, for example, sought funding for Spanish versions of Shakespeare’s texts, as 60 percent of Jordan Matthew’s student population speaks Spanish as their first language. She calls her project “It would be a Tragedia to not have Shakespeare in Español” and said that the grant will help students study Shakespeare, poetry, figurative language, and drama with one less learning barrier in place. “Just imagine how exhausted these native Spanish speaking students are at the end of the day, translating from English to Spanish, back to English all day long,” Ward said. “This grant would help tremendously with that learning curve.”
On the science side, Seaforth High School biology teacher Emily Zalewski requested funding for “Gel Electrophoresis for ALL,” which would benefit students taking any level of biology. Zalewski explains that Gel Electrophoresis is the basis of DNA technology and is generally very complicated so usually reserved for AP or college-level courses. But a company called MiniOne has simplified the process by creating a system with labs that can be completed within a class period with simple machinery
and procedures. “This gives every student taking biology the opportunity to experience the DNA technology hands on,” she said.
Pollard Middle School’s STEM teacher Shannon Smithberger requested funding to purchase stereomicroscopes and circuitry components for two projects: “Zoom In” and “Let it Glow.” For “Zoom In,” students will use the stereomicroscopes in a forensic unit to compare three-dimensional samples such as hair and textiles. “Forensic science is a hugely popular field right now,” Smithberger said. “Students love searching for clues, analyzing them, and solving the crime.”
The stereomicroscopes will also be used in a biomimicry unit for observing nature as a model to propose new products for humans. As an example, Smithberger related, “The burrs on a burdock plant inspired velcro.”
The circuitry components for “Let it Glow” will let students see how simple circuits work as they make light-up greeting cards for a community member in need of cheer and also create electric circuit games to review a science concept such as the parts of a cell or heart.
The district-wide funded project is “Deaf Social Events,” which is a project CEF funded last year as well. Salita Callicutt, a hearing impaired teacher for the CCS district, explained, “Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are often the only one in the building with this disability and can feel isolated [and] social events allow a direct way to combat that isolation.” This year’s plan is to add parent information sessions on topics, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Vocational Rehabilitation, to the events. “These sessions will also give parents the opportunity to gain support from one another as they share experiences,” Callicutt said.
The above are just a sampling of the innovative projects that will be taking place in—and outside—classrooms across the county. Be sure to follow CEF on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CEFnc) and Instagram (instagram.com/cef_nc) as we will showcase several of the projects as teachers and students put them into action.
CEF is grateful for the support of our corporate, foundation, and individual donors. Without our donors, these innovative, engaging, and hands-on projects and resources outside a teacher’s typical annual budget, would not be available to Chatham County Schools’ students.