PPMS teachers secure grants promoting literacy and robotics

Published 3:11 pm Monday, February 11, 2019

PELHAM – The work of some dedicated teachers at Pelham Park Middle School resulted in the school securing multiple grants this school year.

At a Pelham Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, PPMS principal Dr. Justin Hefner announced that the school received the Dollar General Foundation Youth Literacy Grant, the YALSA Teen Read Week Activity Grant, the Ezra Jack Keats Mini Grant and the Alabama State Department of Education Robotics grant. In all, the grants total $4,435.

PPMS received $500 from the Ezra Jacks Keats Foundation. The grant proposal, co-written by media center specialist April Wallace and teacher Hannah Rodgers, was called “Visiting the World Through Festivals” and propositioned the idea of celebrating the world and its diversity by recognizing a festival from a different country each month.

Each month includes a discussion about the country and the festival, and then students do an art activity that honors the festival. In September, students learned about South Africa’s Whale Festival and created posters encouraging environmental awareness. October was dedicated to India’s Gandhi Jayanti Festival and a large mosaic was created out of peace symbols students drew on pieces of colorful paper.

November and December celebrated the Guatemalan Kite Festival and students created kites. January brought China’s Snow and Ice Festival where students created snow sculptures using white clay. February is reserved for the Winter Festival in Canada and students are creating a snow day story.

In March, Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival will be to focus and students will create Japanese calligraphy. Students will learn about Australia’s Canberra International Music Festival in April and a guest speaker will talk to students about Koalas. May will be dedicated to South Korea’s Children’s Day and students will make Korean paper fans.

Teachers sign up for their students to participate in the month’s events. And certain activities align with curriculum. For example, with the environmental awareness posters creation, sixth grade science classes were invited to participate because human impact on the environment is a topic that is part of the earth science curriculum. For the snow clay sculpting activity, the design and modeling students were invited.

Creating a global mindset is a major component of 21st century learning and innovation skills, Rodgers said.

“By giving the students exciting and engaging opportunities such as this, we are providing a means to show how diverse yet interconnected our world is,” Rodgers said. “The goal is to ignite their awareness of the world around them and spark a curiosity that will keep them globally aware for the rest of their lives. This curiosity about the world will lead to acknowledging other perspectives and eventually taking action to make the world a better place.”

Each year, the Young Adult Library Services Association hosts a Teen Read Week. The 2018 theme was “It’s Written in the Stars” and the grants were given to support programming with this theme. Teens were encouraged to think and read outside of the box, as well as read fantasy, sci-fi, and other out-of-this-world books. Wallace, who wrote the grant, said she used the $1,000 grant to purchase two Oculus Go virtual reality headsets that allow students to explore space through virtual reality apps. The remaining money was spent on new sci-fi, fantasy, and science-themed books.

“Only 10 grants were given in the United States, so it was an honor to be one of the grantees,” Wallace said. “I did one lesson with seventh grade English classes where we identified characteristics of sci-fi and fantasy stories, and then students created their own storyline and book jacket. The book jacket included their story blurb, author biography and book cover illustration.”

Wallace was also responsible for the Dollar General Foundation Youth Literacy Grant for which the school received $2,000. The grant is meant for schools, public libraries and nonprofit organizations that help students who are below grade level or having trouble reading. Wallace said the money was used to buy new and diverse materials for the library.

“We have such a diverse student body at PPMS and I wanted that reflected in our school library materials,” Wallace said. “We were able to purchase 108 fiction and non-fiction books and 10 playaways, which are good for students to use because they don’t require the internet and don’t have software to download. We got a wide selection, including books with characters of different backgrounds, ethnic groups and settings in various parts of the world. We also purchased graphic novel editions of books for our more visual learners.”

The final grant the school received was the $935 Alabama State Department of Education’s robotics grant. Teacher Catherine Dixon, who wrote the grant proposal, said the funds will be used to purchase a competition robotics kit for the robotics team the school is working to start. Dixon said the goal is to have the robotics team up and running by the start of next school year.

“We’re hoping to get the robot in the spring and then we’ll have students in our robotics class look at it and play with it,” Dixon said. “We’re excited to grow our robotics expertise. I really hope our students take these skills and excitement into high school and beyond. We want this to inspire them.”