Champions For Learning awards grants for teachers’ projects amid pandemic

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Vineyards Elementary first-grade students from the classrooms of Joanna Campanile and Janell Matos hold up their teachers’ grants on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (Photo: Courtesy of Collier County Public Schools)

Escape rooms that make learning an adventure, a student store encouraging creativity, and a new way to engage students about civics are just three Collier teacher projects that received funding Friday through Champions For Learning.

Champions For Learning awarded 141 grants totaling about $79,700 to educators at 41 schools. 

The Collier-based education foundation that hand-delivers teachers’ grants annually skipped those in-person visits to schools this year due to COVID-19.

But teachers throughout Collier County were still surprised Friday by their school principals and staff, Lisa Church, chief community impact officer for Champions For Learning, said.

Community members interested in researching and funding grants for teacher projects, can do so through an online grant portal where teachers also submit their applications.

The list: Here’s a full list of grants delivered by Champions For Learning

Three Collier teachers shared what came to fruition through funded grants this year:  

Bobcat Boutique

Eden Park Elementary’s Bobcat Boutique takes little things and makes them special.

Technology teacher Ysela Quintana said her students are developing entrepreneurial and budgeting skills as well as a desire to build. 

From water bottles to laptops, her students are building designs and personalizing their fellow students’ everyday items to make them truly their own. 

It can be something as simple as a name, she said. 

Eden Park Elementary School teacher Ysela Quintana (Photo: Collier County Public Schools)

“We have a lot of unique names in our school, so it’s almost hard to find anything personalized,”  Quintana said. 

Second- through fifth-grade students provide their services, earn a profit, raise funds and then choose where to donate the money, according to Quintana’s grant.

This year due to the coronavirus pandemic students aren’t making their items to sell. Quintana said that didn’t stop their creativity. 

In art class, her students are creating designs to be printed and placed on the various objects, from bottles to pencil sharpeners, for their store. 

And students learning from home can also help to design after her grant covered a design subscription in addition to other items for the store.

“They love that they can think of an idea and it can come to life,” Quintana said. “They love the ownership of it.”

Quintana is no stranger to putting her ideas and projects out there.

During her 14 years as an educator in Collier County, she said she has submitted more than 30 grants to Champions For Learning. They were all funded, she said.

Quintana, who has spent the past four years at Eden Park, encourages her colleagues to apply for any grant that could benefit their students because the process is quick and easy, she said.

Quintana said her students’ drive and excitement to come to her class make everything worth it to her as a teacher. Her grants for projects have aided that.

“That to me is a success,” Quintana said.

Escape rooms

Palmetto Ridge High School teacher Bob Scallan started putting together escape rooms, adventure games that rely on clues to “escape” or win, to help kids learn interactively.

Pretty soon his escape rooms were spreading.

“It just took off beyond my wildest dreams because I had teachers across the campus, asking me to create an escape room for that class,” Scallan said. 

Scallan, who joined Collier schools six years ago, started applying for grants to build sets. This year, he asked for locks, boxes and vinyl to take the projects to the next level. 

Escape rooms about novels, geometry and the Constitution began to pop up with every request. 

“It is unbelievable the interest and excitement that they generate,” Scallan said. “It’s such a different way of learning. It’s something they’ve never done.”

Grants from this year vary by class, grade and implementation, but several teachers are incorporating virtual learning into their grants to provide an opportunity for students at home to participate.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Scallan has put the rooms on hold and adjusted to creating some virtual escape rooms for his students.

He’s planning to restart physical games next semester, and he said he can’t wait to continue to provide experiences for years to come.

The most important part of escape rooms, Scallan said, is how the experience impacts students.

“So many times, I’ve seen students staring at the clock just waiting for the bell to ring because they’re disengaged,” Scallan said. “Now we see kids staring at the clock because they want more time to solve all the clues, riddles and puzzles.”

Engaging with civics

Oakridge Middle School teacher Laura Heald knew her seventh-grade civics class would require all of her moxie to keep students excited about learning the essential subject matter.

She’s rising to the challenge by finding ways to keep them engaged, so she wrote a grant application to do just that.

Heald and two of her colleagues submitted a grant proposal to use Nearpod, a software application that helps make lessons more interactive.

“We’re able to go in and tweak it all,” Heald said. “We can create from scratch, or we can use theirs (Nearpod) and tweak them. We can have it meet our needs.”

In her same grant, she tacked on Quizlet and Word Wall, which deal with vocabulary games, to motivate her students.

“If you use it all the time and play with it all the time, you might be much more able to retain it, and that’s what I’m looking for,” Heald said.

This week her class is reviewing the Declaration of Independence, and Heald said her students have met all of her expectations by breaking down complexities. 

“I really want them to remember it for their lives and be able to use it in the real world,” Heald said. “It’s fun to hear when suddenly the light bulbs come on.”

Heald is familiar with Champions For Learning due to several years of funded grants. She was also named a Golden Apple recipient in 2002.

The nonprofit organization awards the Apples from a group of Teachers of Distinction selected by each Collier County public school. 

More: ‘We got the Golden Apple’: Six Collier County teachers given annual awards

“We care, and it’s nice to know that somebody else is recognizing that the kids are worth it because I truly think they all are,” Heald said. 

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Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at [email protected]

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