Mini-grants encourage teacher creativity — and learning

It was a celebration of creativity and innovation as Shelton teachers received Shelton Education Endowment Fund [SEEF] awards during a spring social at Shelton Intermediate School.

The grants are “designed to fund initiatives outside the school budget,” said School Supt. Freeman Burr. “We encourage our teachers to reach out and participate.”

Six mini-grants, each with a $250 maximum, were given to projects ranging from forensic science and cellular respiration to research on the lifecycle of a baby chick and designing an outdoor garden.

Erica McNeil, a science teacher at SIS, received funding for “Engineering Design — Garden Water Barrels,” a project that allows students to design and create a rain barrel to catch rainwater as a “green” watering system for the school garden.

Susan Albright, a SIS teacher who’s the adviser of the school’s Photography Club, received a mini-grant for “Snapshots of Our Worlds.” Her students will learn photography techniques as well as printing, matting and displaying their work.

‘Seed funding’

“The grants serve as seed funding for projects,” said Valerie Knight-DiGangi, liaison for the SEEF Advisory Committee and program officer at the Valley Community Foundation, the account holder for SEEF.

The goal is for teachers who win funding for their projects “to run with them and expand them,” Knight-DiGangi said.

The projects appear to have sparked students’ interest.

Albright reports that many students in the middle school Photography Club have gone on to enroll in photography classes at Shelton High School, Knight-DiGangi said.

“The mini-grants are designed as exploration,” said Burr, who recently issued a matching grant challenge of $500 to support SEEF.

At the May 27 awards ceremony, Terry Jones of Jones Family Farm added $200, another $850 was matched, and Landmark Student Transportation donated $1,000, Knight-DiGangi said.

Grow the program

Teachers have applied for the mini-grants for the past three years, and as the fund increases, the hope is to boost the number of grants each year, she said.

“We’re not looking to supplant things funded by a city or municipal budget,” Burr said.

Rather, the fund aims to enhance educational opportunities, and support “the four pillars of investment,” including student awards and scholarships, teacher creativity and innovation, career and college exploration, and parent-community engagement.

SEEF award-winners also include Elizabeth Shelton School teachers Kerry Mizak and Kelly Young for the “What’s Hatching” project for grade three students, and SIS teachers Dawn Guerriero and Penny Zhitomi for their project “Native Species-Scavenger Hunt.”

Also, SHS science teacher Patricia Presutto for her project “Forensic Science,” and SHS science teacher Mary Clark for “Cellular Respiration,” a project that’s part of the AP biology course, where students investigate cellular respiration in multicellular organisms.

Tax-deductible donations to SEEF will be accepted and used to support education in Shelton.

For more information on SEEF and how to donate, call Knight-DiGangi at 203-924-1023, ext. 336.