Teacher grants benefit generations

By Tara Somerville
Posted 11/21/19

As the sun set behind Taos Country Club on Nov. 14, dozens of local teachers filed into its banquet hall and lit the fires of inspiration for what's possible in education.

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Teacher grants benefit generations

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As the sun set behind Taos Country Club on Nov. 14, dozens of local teachers filed into its banquet hall and lit the fires of inspiration for what's possible in education. They were the 40 (minus a few absentees) recipients of Taos Community Foundation teacher grants totaling nearly $16,000. The grants are available to teachers and staff of the Taos Municipal School District.

As part of an annual reception with TCF staff, board members and funders also present, grantees received their checks and spoke about their projects, which will serve children from a few weeks old through high school. The awards range from $300-$500 per project and it was clear from the speeches that maximum enrichment will be gleaned from every penny.

Out in the field

Jacqueline Graham will use her $300 to take her Taos Middle School government class on a tour of the Roundhouse and Taos County complex. Students will also attend Taos County Commission meetings to enrich their understanding of how laws are made.

Arroyos del Norte teacher Liz Gilroy is also planning a field trip with her funds - to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument with second- and fourth-grade classes to witness firsthand what water, wind and erosion do to the earth.

Grants for supplies included integral items such as early childhood play structures and drip systems for greenhouses. They also included supplies for a third-grade STEM project to build bluebird houses that will be placed around school grounds and the broader community.

Funds awarded to another teacher will purchase a flight simulator system (yoke, software, throttle and rudders) for fourth-graders to add a hands-on element to their study of aviation.

Finding balance

A significant portion of grant monies was planned for self-regulation modalities for children with either temporary or chronic emotional imbalances. A vestibular swing designed to help with sensory processing will be purchased by special education teacher Erin Pirozak.

Tammy Dobbs, Blue MacHardy and Mary Bishop of Anansi Charter School will use funds to add activities to their sensory integration hallway, which currently houses hopscotch and hands-on items to help students feel more centered in their bodies.

"Research shows that we've raised the bar for academics for little ones and they're not getting the sensory integration they need and so we have to provide it for them," said Dobbs. The sensory hallway was so well-received, she added, that she sees even eighth-graders jumping the squares of hopscotch.

Mike Bonner plans to use funds to pay for his school's participation in the National Geography Bee; Betsy Kinney will purchase items for a class store where her fifth-graders can spend money they've earned in a classroom economy.

Taos Cyber Magnet School will be funding a project to build an horno (outdoor adobe oven) in collaboration with a Taos Pueblo parent.

Florence Miera, district social worker, will use funds to acquire training materials in the 123 Magic program, which trains teachers in communication techniques that can be helpful with the highest risk youth populations. "For those of you that are familiar with Love & Logic, this works on students that Love & Logic - a behavioral management program - does not work on," she explained. Nods of understanding rippled through the assembly.

Thanking TCF

Several teachers gave credit to TCF for significantly enhancing their classrooms over the years. The fund has awarded grants to teachers and staff of the Taos Municipal School District since 2008. Over the years close to $181,000 has been awarded to 458 teachers and staff.

"My science lab has been completely built by Taos Community Foundation," said Nathaniel Evans, Taos Charter School middle school teacher. "We got the Yaxche [School] chemistry kits, complete with glassware, when they were closing. I got $500 from TCF and bought it all. We've been able, over the years, to do real hands-on science moving through technology; we have a 3D printer. It's so much support that's gone through the different generations. I can't tell you how many - maybe even doctors - who've done dissections with me."

Philip Handmaker, who will purchase a set of Spanish graphic novels to ignite interest in Spanish literacy in his middle school students echoed Evans. "I've definitely built my classroom library from TCF funds over the years," he said.

Many of the same teachers apply for the grant each year and they are welcome and encouraged to do so, according to Helen Forte, TCF director of community outreach. They also get new people every year and would love to see their numbers grow. "It is a competitive application process, but we will do our best to support as many applications as we can," she said.

Grants are available annually. This year's applications were made available to schools late August and were due in September.

Taos Community Foundation works as a liaison between donors and those in need. According to the website, the foundation actively "fosters and encourages private philanthropic giving," invests funds and then awards money to community members and organizations.

The teacher grants come from the Taos Public Education Fund, which was established in 2005. The vision of the fund is "that every students will graduate from high school with the tools necessary to succeed as a productive citizen," according to the TCF event program.

Editor's note: The reporter of this piece was also awarded a teacher grant - for musical instruments for her second-graders.

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