2021 IRTAF Grant Winners
This Fall, the Illinois Retired Teachers Association Foundation (IRTAF) will award over $36,500 in grant money to several public school educators from across the state. This grant money will allow these educators to enrich their instruction with materials not otherwise available to them. Their students are the real winners! A special thank you to the Illinois Principals Association for their assistance with the promotion of this program. Below, you will find the name of each winner listed, along with his/her school, IRTA Area, and a paragraph summary about each project in the winner’s own words.
Elizabeth Albers, Earlville Elementary School, Earlville (1)
I truly believe, and research shows, that students get better at reading with practice. We need all of our students simply reading daily, both in our classrooms and at home. My request is for a classroom lending library that will help me motivate my students to read voraciously.
Kristian Barajas, Mendota Township High School, Mendota (1)
Funds received will be used for grades 9-12 special education math program. The project goal is to bring hands on, creativity while learning into the math classroom. I will do this through an assortment of STEAM books, games and whiteboard activities. These resources will also benefit early finishers and students in my resource period who are behind a grade level and need to build their math skills.
Heather Brown, East Coloma-Nelson Elementary, Rock Falls (1)
Our district just created the math intervention program to help struggling learners and make up lost time due to Covid-19. Studies have shown that manipulatives help students solidify math concepts, but this being the premier year, we currently do not have all of the resources needed to meet the needs of all the students. These manipulatives will be used annually across several grade bands benefiting a variety of learners. In addition to the classroom manipulatives, there are individual sets for students to practice with at home and return to school helping enhance the home to school connection.
Amanda Carson, Mercer County Intermediate School, Aledo (1)
As an instructional math coach, I am always looking for ways to help teachers provide computation fluency in a fun and engaging way. The Tangy and Wordy puzzle packs from Tang Math will provide students a way to build their number sense and increase their mathematical fluency.
Kate Fordham, Tampico Elementary School, Tampico (1)
Our Kindergarten through third grade classes are in need of decodable readers. These books will be used with small reading groups to help with struggling readers. Our goal as teachers is to help students develop good reading skills, and having high interest, decodable text will help meet that goal.
Dawn Hart, Durand Elementary School, Durand (1)
My goal is obtain multiple class book sets from the I Survived series. These are historical fiction, written at the 4th grade level which bring the historical event to life for the student. Students are motivated and engaged readers with these content rich books. The books will foster class discussion and will supplement cross curricular learning in social studies and science, and broaden their understanding of scientific and historial content.
Kim Hughes, Livingston County Special Services Unit, Flanagan (1)
A Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) Lab creates an opportunity for students to explore hands-on skills used in future careers. This program converts a classroom into a work development lab where students become employees and teachers become employers. This lab assesses a student's work potential and interest level. Students explore various jobs, while using real tools, and developing proper work behaviors in five areas: Computer Technology, Construction/Industrial, Processing/Production, Consumer/Service, and Business/ Marketing.
Miranda Nimrick, New Boston Elementary, New Boston (1)
The project that I would like to bring into my classroom for the 2021-2022 school year, and beyond, is incorporating picture books that teach math skills. There are so many well written picture books that would fit into my third grade math curriculum, but the price to get all of these books myself is too much. My students would get to read these stories by themselves, in groups, or in a whole group setting with me. My hopes for the picture books would be to spark interest in the skill that is about to be taught and they are eager to learn more.
Nicole Trampel, Durand Elementary School, Durand, IL (1)
The fifth grade students study life science by hatching chicks from eggs in our classrooms. This grant award money would benefit both fifth grade classrooms by allowing the teachers to purchase a HovaBator Genesis 1588 Incubator Kit for each classroom so that all of the fifth grade students would be able to have a first-hand experience of the eggs hatching. Many educational activities go along with this unit. For example, the students research breeds of chickens, learn about the life cycle, complete science experiments that involve learning about the entire egg, and read many nonfiction passages about eggs and chickens.
Michelle Baldwin, Ronald O'Neal Elementary School, Elgin (2)
Due to the closing of school over 15 months ago for Covid 19, 682 books from our library have not been returned and are presumed not able to be recovered. My goal is to replace as many missing books as possible with this grant. 87% of my students are members of one or more minority groups with 92% receiving Free or Reduced Lunch.
Brittany DeLaurentis, Viking School, Gurnee (2)
This grant would afford me the opportunity to provide a more diverse literary selection to my students. My students need to read about themselves in positive settings; it is critical that my classroom library reflects the diversity within my class rosters.
Michelle Lawniczak, Lake Villa School District, Lake Villa (2)
The funds for this project will be used towards purchasing STEAM and cooperative gaming related materials for students in grades K-8th grade. Ideally, the materials will compliment library lessons and provide an opportunity for students to rotate through stations after their book check out. The materials can be coupled with Novel Engineering projects and activities to go along with Monarch Award nominees. Cooperative games will be a resource for junior high students to engage in strong social and emotional connections.
Vince Logan, Indian Valley Vocational Center, Sandwich (2)
In our class, we often perform role-playing scenarios. We would like to have "body cameras" that record the scenarios so that students can review and learn from their mistakes. This would be a valuable tool for self-criticism and creating training videos for future lessons that may require many students to watch a certain scenario.
Jeannine Ryan, Harrison School District 36, Wonder Lake (2)
As an art teacher during the pandemic, I had found my purpose for my students (K- 8th Grade) was to give them an outlet for their emotions while being the "constant" in their lives while things were so out control. Art is "talking in pictures" and I would like to use funds to give children the resources and the availability to talk about by expressing what we just lived through during the past year. The funded project would be an important part of social emotional lessons needed in living life after the pandemic, so students can begin to heal from all chaos that they endured during these last 12 months. This collaborative, school-wide effort would be a piece of the art curriculum for years to come.
Ashley Belt, W.C. Reavis Elementary, Lansing (3)
Most students are not exposed to a lot of resources at home. They are just beginning their school careers and, as a teacher, I want to make school a positive learning environment for them no matter what their surroundings are. I want to give them something to look forward to and help them learn the skills to be successful in school.
Valerie Dees, Salt Fork Elementary & Jr High, Sidell (3)
We would like to create a fitness center that is fun and age appropriate for K-8th graders. Currently, there is an old high school weight room, but we are hoping to transform it into a K-8 fitness center. Students will learn the importance engaging in fitness activities while having fun.
Jennifer Giemza, Jefferson Elementary School, Berwyn (3)
Utilizing realistic models for still life drawing benefits student's observational skills. As an observer of the world around them, using life like models of insects and dinosaurs connects my art student's scientific observational skills to their ability to diagram, sketch, and use the elements of art to record what they actually see, rather than what they think something looks like.
Eileen Johnson, Southeast SASED, Naperville (3)
The school garden will allow students hands-on learning while working on social collaboration and team-building skills. This will increase the opportunity to engage students across all subject areas and provide necessary movement and exercise outdoors. Students will foster a sense of responsibility and community. Through creating an outdoor classroom garden, we will foster hands-on learning activities that are meaningful and purposeful.
Joline Platt, Finley Junior High School, Chicago Ridge (3)
The counseling team has been working on encouraging students and supporting teachers to focus on resiliency and overcoming obstacles, especially in these current times. We would very much hope to bring in speakers for assemblies, career days, workshops, etc. who can motivate, inspire, educate, and inform the students of how they have modeled resiliency and how students can then apply those lessons and examples in their own lives. If awarded, the funds would be used to support this effort.
Ashley Smith, Salt Fork North Elementary, Catlin (3)
My project involves the purchase of a class set of novels of the story "The Lions of Little Rock" by Kristine Levine as well as the purchase of non-fictional supplemental materials to enhance learning about the Civil Rights Movement. Students will complete an expository report through independent research using the materials or books that were purchased to dive deeper into the topic and expand their knowledge base.
Donna Sobotka, M. J. Cunningham, Joliet (3)
My goal is for my 1st grade students to gain fluency in adding to 10. I would like to order Math Stackers as a hands-on activity to help build fluency. The blocks will help visual and kinesthetic learners in actually building and seeing the sums being put together. The magnet set would help reinforce learning of the blocks and would be used during guided math time.
Robert Whitcher, Milford High School, Milford (3)
My project is to build a small classroom library with a variety of comprehensible graded readers for my high school Spanish learners, and I will allocate classroom time each week for students to silently read Spanish texts of their choice. This will boost language acquisition and fluency, benefiting our students at Milford High School for years to come.
Pamela Yergler, Oakwood High School, Fithian (3)
Our students love to interact in Spanish and this project reflects their desire to immerse themselves in the various Spanish-speaking cultures around the world. This grant will be used to purchase class sets of books, audiobooks (podcasts) as well as popular TV shows/movies (in Spanish). These shared resources will give us a window into the outside world in a way that will generate conversation and spark research ideas for years to come.
Leevia Barnett, Winchester High School, Winchester (4)
I am requesting this funding for a project to update and improve my World Geography curriculum. I have five to six different subjects to prep for each day and I see over 150 students on a daily basis. My time is limited to create new and engaging lesson plans. This money would dramatically help me add some digital and updated classroom learning resources to be used in World Geography every day for years to come.
Jodi Brodbeck-Fletcher, Midwest Central High School, Manito (4)
Reading is an enormous part of learning and practicing a world language, and age-appropriate books geared toward a student's language level make it interesting. These Spanish readers will help me engage my students not only with the language but also with cultural aspects of Spanish-speaking countries.
Amanda Coutre, Chillicothe Elementary Center and Junior High School, Chillicothe (4)
We will be using our grant money to purchase new Crossnet equipment for our Physical Education classes. This is a brand new unit that we will introduce to our future students for years to come, which is a mix between Volleyball and Four Square. These nets are versatile enough to use indoors or outdoors, as well as, for multiple units including Crossnet, Volleyball, Badminton, and Omnikin Ball. We strive to find fresh, new ideas to add to our Physical Education curriculum to give our students a variety of options.
Kathy Gilles, Wilder-Waite Grade School, Peoria (4)
I requested a Epson document camera for my kindergarten classroom. This document camera will allow me to present pages, books, and all instruction materials while altering them during our lesson time. It is extremely helpful for my students to be able to see what I am trying to present to them clearly. This camera will be a wonderful addition to my class.
Barb Hartseil, Kingsley Junior High School, Normal (4)
My goal is to get manipulatives in the hands of my students who spent so much time in online learning last year. My students have identified disabilities in math and learn best when they can use all modalities to learn. I believe using manipulatives will add a layer to learning concepts and understanding concepts that digital and paper/pencil tasks cannot.
Elizabeth Klein, Princeville Grade School, Princeville (4)
I am hoping to expand our 3rd grade classroom library by adding a number of poetry and biography picture books. After a thorough end of the year classroom library inventory, it was evident that the poetry section and biography section could definitely use some quality additions. Students benefit greatly from having a wide variety of genres to choose their reading materials from. One of the most important jobs as a teacher is to inspire a love of reading in my 3rd graders and increasing the classroom library selection is a major step in helping accomplish that job.
Rachel Maupin, Calhoun High School, Hardin (4)
I would like to purchase five (5) TI-84 CE calculators for my classroom. These calculators are rechargeable. This addition to my classroom would allow my students the experience with a graphing calculator. Many of my students cannot afford to purchase a graphing calculator of their own.
Kelbey McMath, Clinton Junior High School, Clinton (4)
Students in my class are working on the Good Cemeterian Project in which they research a veteran buried in a local cemetery. Students create a research project based on the veteran's life and then go to the cemetery to clean their grave, making them look brand new. During the project, students are using GPS to make an online map and database to preserve the history and information of such veterans. A drone is necessary for this part of the project for high resolution images of the cemetery plots to ensure accuracy.
Janet Mitchell, Tri-Valley Elementary School, Downs (4)
I would like to use this grant to build a library in which students and teachers can use these stories as mirrors (to see themselves and their own life situations) but also as windows (to use these stories to step into new and different life perspectives of people who don't look or live like them).
Tayler Musselman, Kingsley Junior High School, Normal (4)
I would love to incorporate diverse mentor texts into my instructional Literature and Composition class as well as my instructional Language Arts class. The only mentor texts I have are ones the school has given me, which are the same ones the general education classes use. I believe incorporating diverse mentor texts at my students' levels will help them understand the concepts and standards being taught in my room.
Kristin Myers, Tri-Valley High School, Downs (4)
The Tri-Valley FFA Organization and the agriculture students currently use the greenhouse facility to promote cross-curricular activities within the district. Besides the goal of educating students from ages K-12 about plants, plant nutrients and fertilizers we also want to reach each and every one of the community members as they step foot in the greenhouse doors. With this grant, we hope to educate all ages about the importance of plant nutrients, plant growth and increasing food availability to our growing population.
Kara Quick, Regional Alternative School, Bloomington (4)
The Regional Alternative School is fortunate to operate a food pantry through partnerships with the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and Midwest Food Bank. We receive boxes of food to help support our families, but we often notice a lack of awareness of how to prepare nutritious meals with the food we provide to students and their families. The goal of "Cooking on a Budget" is to help students identify ingredients in our food pantry and how to put them together to make meals for their families. We do not currently have a kitchen to support this project; therefore, I am creating a mobile kitchen to be used in classrooms to better serve our students.
Shannon Seneczko, Central Junior High School, Camp Point (4)
I would like to offer my 5th grade ELA classes a Book Tasting. A book tasting would allow them to travel around the classroom, which has been decorated like a fancy restaurant, "tasting" various books while snacking on real treats. Each table they visit in the "restaurant" would have a different book on display to browse. After filling out their "menu", students would be put into novel study groups to read the books they have chosen.
Samantha Tabor, Hollis Grade School, Peoria (4)
I plan to update our band and choir libraries with newer music including music composed by a diverse range of composers which covers many different styles. It is beneficial to students when they are able to perform newer works by contemporary composers, as well as study pieces by composers who they can relate to. By adding pieces that would be used for CMP (Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance), I will use these pieces not only to teach skills and knowledge, but also to produce affective outcomes for social and emotional development. This grant will allow me to add 16 new titles to our band and choir libraries that students will benefit from for many years to come.
JoAnn Atwood, Cisne Middle School, Cisne (5)
This coming year, our school will be implementing a new reading assessment program. The past few years we have been working to revamp and update our school library. This grant would help us purchase new books to introduce students to various genres. It would also provide funds for organizational materials to help create a space that is inviting and "sells reading" to our students.
Erin Barker, Okaw Valley Elementary School, Bethany (5)
I am aspiring to grow my speech and language therapy resources for students with delayed language or language disorders. Students with delayed language or language disorders present a wide variety of needs, therefore it is essential to continue growing the resources available to these students to improve their specific language needs.
Roberta Biggs, Jasper CCSD #17, Fairfield (5)
Give me a beat and free my soul is how the song goes... In our music classroom every student deserves a chance to make music. Having rhythm instruments, drum equipment, music notation through midi equipment and a music notation on our floor rug for reinforcement can help make that dream a reality. Thanks to the IRTA for making a difference in my students musical experience and keeping the beat going!
Hillary Gee, Carmi-White County High School, Carmi (5)
The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization that invites art teachers and their students to create portraits for youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, and extreme poverty. The organization sends actual photos of children in various countries for art students to draw in exchange for a donation of $15/per student. The money goes to help these poverished children with supplies for food and education. Once complete, the portraits we make are mailed back to the organization and then delivered to the children, which the organization videos and sends back to us.
Andrew Jones, Beckemeyer Elementary, Hillsboro (5)
Approximately 650 students will be impacted by this equipment in PE classes. During required testing, I will be able to assess students more efficiently and accurately. This will allow more time for students to actively participate.
Rochelle Luttrell, Lovington Grade School, Lovington (5)
Kindergarten is a time for hands-on learning that helps to establish a true joy of learning. STEM kits help students learn NGSS learning standards through hands-on lessons using the scientific method in a fun and engaging way.
Ernie Oakley, Sorento School, Sorento (5)
These kits would provide my students with additional STEM resources. Each kit would enhance the engineering component to our curriculum while also supplementing our studies of forces and Newton's Laws of Motion. These kits would be a valuable addition to our current 7th & 8th grade curriculum.
Dana Pals, Dieterich Elementary, Dieterich (5)
Each year the 5th grade does an "American Historical Figures" project since we study US History in the 5th grade. Each student chooses a famous American to research, write a speech about, and create a costume for, and we host a Wax Museum for other grades, parents, relatives, etc. to come watch. Our classrooms are limited in what materials we can offer the students to learn about these famous Americans. These sets of "Who Was?" books will get used for years to come to help make our Wax Museum project come to life each year!
Sheila Rappe, Meridian High School, Macon (5)
The Excellence in Education Grant will allow my Genetics/Microbiology students to experience a wider variety of laboratory activities that reinforce the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and prepare them for more advanced coursework at the college level. With experience in performing monohybrid crosses, karyotyping, DNA profiling, simulated blood typing, and exploration of antibiotic resistance, we will meet our goal of expanding STEM opportunities for our students.
Ryan Repking, Dieterich Jr-Sr High School, Dieterich (5)
I teach a small engine/automotive class and we are in need of funding to buy more tools. Tools can be very expensive for a small district like Dieterich, but once they are purchased they can be passed on for years to come. The class is currently in its third year, and it continues to grow in size due to student interest. Although I am excited to add more students, we now have the added cost of having to purchase more tools.
Hope Robertson, Okaw Valley Elementary School, Bethany (5)
IRTAF will be able to publicize the importance and benefit of sensory items in the classroom. Sensory items are not only fun, but truly help students with a variety of abilities to learn in ways that are best for them. Unfortunately, most of these items come at a high price. With the help of IRTAF, my classroom specifically will become that much more prepared to meet the needs of every individual student.
Michele Seabaugh, Brownstown Jr/Sr High School, Brownstown (5)
I want to add resources in financial literacy to my business courses. I really encourage students to budget, save, invest, and stay away from credit cards so additional resources could really help drive my point home.
Candi Thomas, Villa Grove Elementary School, Villa Grove (5)
This sixth grade social studies unit will be used to cover the Civil Rights Movement. When students learn about the Civil Rights Movement, they learn what it means to be American citizens that are actively participating. "They learn how to recognize injustice. They learn about the transformative role played by thousands of ordinary individuals, as well as the importance of organization for collective change." (Learning for Justice)
Rebecca Waters, Beckemeyer Elementary, Hillsboro (5)
Classroom Edition: Feeling Buddies Self-Regulation Deluxe Toolkit will provide a multi-sensory research based approach to help students use self-regulation strategies as part of our conscious discipline approach to social emotional learning. It includes materials to help teach students to use tools to calm their minds and bodies, identify feelings, and problem solve to make conscious choices to promote self-regulation.
Kaleb Welch, South Central, Farina (5)
I would like to use these funds for my Physics class. I use a STEM approach to teaching Physics and like to get my students hands on experiences building and engineering projects. I would apply this money to getting something in the robotics field that my physics classes could use in the future.
Rob Campbell, Liberty Middle School, Edwardsville (6)
Our 7th grade general music class includes a unit on learning how to play guitar. For many students, this is the only experience they have to play a guitar, let alone any instrument. Having individual clip-on tuners will reduce the amount of time needed each day retuning each guitar. Additionally, having a class set of guitar method books will provide a more concise process to allow more content to be learned in each class.
Teresa Dunning, Pope County Elementary School, Golconda (6)
Our classroom is in need of updated books for our classroom library. There are so many new books my students want to read. We would also like to buy the rest of the books to finish out several different series we've started. My students are only allowed to go to our school library once a week for one book only.
Melissa Fiedler, Johnston City High School, Johnston City (6)
Two years ago I applied for grants in order to get 3 cameras to start a photography class at Johnston City High School. Over these years the limited number of cameras has made it difficult with the students having to share the cameras. The number of students signing up for this class has greatly increased for this next school year to 41 students, making our need for an additional camera even greater. If we were to receive this grant we would be able to get 1 more camera which will make it so there will be approximately five kids sharing each camera per class period.
Brynn Freed, Unity Point School, Carbondale (6)
We would like to create a book room at our school that is full of organized leveled readers that can be utilized for Kindergarten-3rd grade classroom teachers, as well as special education teachers and Title reading teachers. These leveled readers would be used during small group reading time in the classroom and could also be a part of an individual child's book box. This resource would aid our new teachers who have limited classroom libraries and provide our veteran teachers with materials that would allow an organized approach to small group reading.
John Hall, Hardin County High School, Elizabethtown (6)
This grant will allow me to purchase a set of American Welding Society reference books. This will benefit my welding students by allowing them to see actual industry standards and practices without the economic burden of purchasing the set themselves. As these will be the newest edition, they will be relevant for several years to come and will benefit several years of students.
Amy Hamson, Hamilton County Junior High School, McLeansboro (6)
I would like to purchase a classroom set of novels titled "A Long Walk to Water." This is an excellent book that show students the struggles of a teenager fighting to survive in a third world country. In conjunction with reading the novel, my students will participate in a drive to collect items to donate to a Clean Water project that drills wells in countries that need them.
Adrienne Hardwig, Unity Point, Carbondale (6)
This project allows students to participate in graphic novel literature circles. Students love graphic novels and this would allow each student to view his or her own copy. This grant would also purchase a new novel set, which would provide students with a novel that is current, realistic fiction. Finally, this grant would also provide students with the opportunity to read text about diverse characters.
Dawn Jones, Millstadt Consolidated School, Millstadt (6)
I am in need of chrome books to utilize a math program, Reflex, that we use to learn our math facts. We do not have enough chrome books to properly utilize this program. Basic math facts are essential to continue to work through math at the higher grade levels. These can be utilized for many years to come!
Kristin Jones, Galatia Jr./Sr. High School, Galatia (6)
My project is mosaic stepping stones to be created by my junior and senior high school students. The stepping stones will be placed in the gravel space between the school building and the sidewalk and they will be spaced out to go around the school. This project will get me closer to my goal of having art installations throughout my building.
Megan Lamczyk, Sesser-Valier CUSD #196, Sesser (6)
Every year I complete a unit on world percussion instruments and music with my students. The unit requires special percussion instruments and equipment for students to be able to participate in the unit. Students learn proper technique when playing the instruments as well as the history behind the instruments.
Melissa Lundgren, Adams School, Creal Springs (6)
My third graders LOVE doing novel studies. This project would allow my students to enjoy 2 additional novel studies during our school year. It would benefit students for years to come since these novel sets can be used again and again.
Kelsey Mohapp, Herrin Junior High School, Herrin (6)
This project will involve the use of sensors over the school year. Students will be able to study a certain area outside to understand how the seasons/ weather changes affect the ecosystem. These sensors are a one time purchase and will allow students to do this year after year. They will also be able to track data from previous years to see if there are major changes.
Shelly Ohms, Herrin High School, Herrin (6)
I would like to add to my curriculum the general use of a medical laboratory microscope. Other activities include making a gram stain and reading making gram stains and reading WBC differentials. Introduction to forensic medicine is also included and requires use of the microscope.