For a teacher whenever they can provide real world learning opportunities for their students it is beneficial.
Those opportunities for students at Smithton Schools just increased not just 10 fold but 10,000 fold thanks to a $10,000 grant the district received from the America’s Farmers Grow Rural America Grant provided by the Monsanto Fund.
Nationwide the Monsanto Fund provides more than $2.3 million annually to schools since its inception in 2011.
The district has received agricultural grants from the organization in recent years but this is the first time the district has received this award.
“When the opportunity arose to apply for the grant from Mrs. (Dawn) McNeeley our elementary principal, asking if anyone would be interested in applying for the grant, for me it was a no brainer to respond yes to that e-mail.” Olivia Apsher, fourth grade teacher at Smithton said. “While attending the Greg Tang Math Conference in Kansas City in the summer of 2015, I was able to see just how beneficial it can be for our students to learn about math through hands on analysis opportunities.
“When I was in school, my teachers always taught math by standing at the white board or projector and writing down problems for us to mimic until we understood the concept,” she added. “I wanted learning math to be a better experience for my students so I was excited about the possibility of my students being able to use manipulatives to complete tasks that allowed them to make sense of math.”
To be eligible for the grant, area farmers must nominate the district for consideration.
Four local farmers, Nick Gerke, Thomas Kreisel, Mick Selken, and Tommy Summers nominated Smithton.
The applications are judged by a panel of math and science teachers from counties that are not eligible to receive the grant, from there farm leaders review and select the winners from the pool of applicants.
Grant applications are based on the merit of the application, need and community support.
Apsher, along with high school science teacher Lindsey Richardson, and district special services coordinator, Joanne Tyler developed and wrote the grant proposal.
“I enjoy grant writing and have done it at some of the other districts I have worked at,” Tyler said. “I wanted to sit in and help Olivia and Lindsey who didn’t have any grant writing experience prior to this.
“I think it was very beneficial that we had three different backgrounds and perspectives when we approached this,” she added. “We spent about one night a week for about a month and a half working on gathering the information we needed and deciding upon what types of materials that could be best utilized by as many students in the district as possible.”
All three agreed that one thing they did not want to see happen was to receive the materials and then see them sit in boxes or closets and not be utilized by the students.
“We titled our grant “Putting Science and Math in the Hands of Our students,” and we really are doing that,” Tyler said. “We didn’t want to just have the stuff but we wanted it to be used.”
“Mrs. McNeeley came up with a way for that to happen when she suggested that we have a classroom in the elementary set up like a lab where the teachers can bring their classes to use the equipment,” she added. “The teachers sign up to use the room in the same manner they would our computer labs but if teachers want to pair up and team teach a lesson they now have the room, space and materials to do so.”
In the middle school and high school levels the materials are used in the specific classrooms but all teachers are encouraged to use the equipment according to Richardson.
“A lot of the equipment that we purchased for our level is hand held devises that allow us to take the equipment outside the classroom to do research,” Richardson said. “We purchased four Lab Quest 2’s that are wireless testing and measuring devises that have internet capability.
“We don’t have to bring a lot of equipment with us when we go on field tests since we have these,” she added. “It’s all contained in the one devise.”
Tyler added that the materials ordered through the grant support Smithton’s curriculum especially through their focus on college and career readiness.
“We wanted to create a professional environment for all our students,” Tyler said. “That doesn’t just include those who will soon be graduating but we want it to be for those who will grow into it as well.
“We know that using research based program and manipulatives helps to improves students learning and grades,” she added. “One of the best parts is that we will have older students work with the younger students on a one to one basis in the future.”
The district and Apsher are grateful for the opportunities the grant has provided.
“Helping elementary students make sense of math is not always the easiest thing,” Apsher said. “I knew that I was going to need the assistance of manipulatives to help my students work through problems and to see why we do things that we do in math; math should make sense and I wanted to portray that to my students.
“Having the manipulatives that were purchased through the grant has allowed me to spend more time planning relevant learning tasks than trying to figure out how I am going to recreate manipulatives of my own.” She added. “I am able to dedicate my energy less into planning and more into leading my students as they problem solve.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.