Grants let schools try 'great ideas'

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Every year at Ringgold High School, senior art students host a public exhibit, selling their original pieces as a fundraiser for the art and school scholarship program. The showcase has been around for years and has become such an integrated part of the community and school curriculum that “no one even remembers it started as a Great Ideas Grant,” said Patti Hoke of the Consortium of Public Education, which awards the grants.

Individual projects that develop into independent entities is the ideal for winners of Great Ideas Grants, said Ms. Hoke, director of school and community connections for the consortium. The grant recipients, chosen by a regional review committee, receive varying amounts of money to start or continue educational projects within schools around Allegheny County.

The committee encourages cross-curricular topics as well as those that aim to involve families and communities, Ms. Hoke said.

“We like seeing programs that really have the potential to touch everyone and anyone through the learning process,” she said.

The 15 recipient projects received a total of $25,495 in grants this spring.

The committee had several favorites, one of which was Reading Between Friends, a book club involving elementary schools in Woodland Hills with students reading the book, “The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street” by Sharon Flake. The project received a $371 grant, and the fifth-graders will write blogs and use emails and Skype to discuss the book. 

“It allows them to bridge the gap between the communities and the students, getting different kids to interact with one another over an academic endeavor,” Ms. Hoke said. “It’s brilliant, the integration of technology with a simple book club.”

Another favorite, she said, was the All-Year Greenhouse at Forbes Road Career and Technology Center. Students studying heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electricity will install a temperature-controlled greenhouse where horticulture students will grow food. Culinary students will cook the food grown in the greenhouse for school lunches. The program was awarded $3,793, the second-highest award of all recipients.

The highest award — $5,000 — went to a program at Belle Vernon Area High School called Project Lead the Way —Support. Project Lead the Way is a nationally ranked science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum that has partnerships with companies such as IndyCar, John Deere, General Motors and Chevron.

Michael Pappas, technology education teacher at Belle Vernon Area High School, helped with writing the grant to assist in obtaining a 3-D printer and scanner for ninth- and 10th-grade students in the Intro to Engineering Design course. This is the first year Project Lead the Way has been implemented at the high school, he said.

“This has tremendous relevance to real-world applications, and I think that was a real selling point for us to get the grant,” Mr. Pappas said. “The more people we can bring from the outside in shows the students the relevance of what we’re doing here and brings them in from the other core subjects like math or science.”

In the South Allegheny School District, Nature, Art & Us promotes conservation and environmentalism through art, with students creating murals, tiles and clay pieces and using photography to create a mosaic for the school's outdoor learning area.

Louder than a Bomb at Woodland Hills High School incorporates a curriculum around the documentary of the same name, which tells the story of four students preparing for a slam-poetry competition. Woodland Hills students will discuss themes addressed in the film such as teamwork, poverty and violence, and write original poetry inspired by the film. The students' work will be broadcast at a public screening with participation from the Music Performance Club and National Honor Society.

Woodland Hills Junior High School also received a grant. It was awarded $700 for Girls Night Out, a program for teenage girls that aims to promote healthy interpersonal relationships and hygienic practices. Eight school nurses in the district got together and applied for the grant to help pay for gifts and prizes at the event. Last year, the school sponsored the program and more than 60 girls and their mothers attended.

The girls will have opportunities to discuss everything from menstruation and birth control to hair and skin care with a group of experts, including Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

“The girls really just had a good time interacting with their peers and friends after school hours,” Judi Matelan, a certified school nurse at the junior high school, said. “Also, informing this age group about healthy and unhealthy relationships is extremely important and has been a piece of education that I think some have been missing.”

Most of the projects are ongoing, Ms. Hoke said, and the grants are meant to supplement funding for more creative and unique ideas for student outreach and development.

“If it weren’t for grant programs, they probably wouldn’t happen and the kids wouldn’t have that opportunity,” she said. “Budgets are really taking care of the basic needs, and it’s just a fact of life in schools right now. We’re happy to be able to give this opportunity.”

Clarece Polke:, 412-263-1889 or on Twitter @clarepolke.

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