By MARINA WATERS
Christmas is next week, but for five Washington County educators, Christmas came early when they were awarded Quality Educational Support for Tomorrow or “QUEST” grants.
The QUEST Foundation offers funds for educational projects and materials to selected Washington County educators who submit a grant request. QUEST has been serving the county school system for eight years and has awarded grants to 54 classrooms in 14 of Washington County’s Schools, totaling over $152,000 over the years. This year’s rewards totaled $16,016 from the foundation.
“It’s a diverse group, but we all share a common passion; it’s a passion for learning,” QUEST Director Jim Harlan said at the grant ceremony held on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at the Washington County Department of Education. “We are continuing that passion for teachers and students in Washington County by striving to support enhanced education in learning excellence.”
For Melanie Barkley, a first grade teacher at Grandview Elementary School, the $1,738.60 she received in her QUEST grant will offer more than just Chromebooks for her students.
Barkley said the new technology will offer her the chance to break her students into small groups to learn more about everything from researching skills to educational programs.
“Having the children in small groups allows me time, but it will give me the opportunity to instruct them,” Barkely said, “whether it be teaching the first graders how to research, teaching them about different programs, using a program called IXL. That will help as they go into other classes and take online assessments.
“Using (chromebooks) in small groups is really going to be helpful so that we can take time and discuss everything that they’re doing.”
When it came time for QUEST grant applications, Belinda Lyons had individual lessons in mind.
Lyons, who is a special education teacher at Lamar Elementary Schools, wrote the grant for her project “Bridging The Gap With Technology” in hopes of buying 24 Chromebooks to better individualize lessons at Lamar. She was awarded $5,879.70 for her project.
“We are going to use them to develop the individual lessons the students need,” Lyons said. “It saves time with the teachers. We can go in and assign each students what they need at the level that they are able to work on and still have our grade level curriculum, but just put it at a level they can work on it.”
Technology was the main goal for many teachers who submitted their projects for a portion of the grant funds, but for Angee Woody, it was all about musical instruments.
Woody is a music teacher at Lamar Elementary School and received $3,140.24 for the “Orffestra” at Lamar.
An Orffestra incorporates singing, acting, dancing and playing instruments. It was first introduced by Carl Orff, a German composer who came up with the approach to music education. Woody, who is now in her second year of certification in Orff’s methodology, said the grant dollars will be put towards incorporating the lively music education practices in the classroom.
“Orff is based on sing, say, dance and play which is exactly how we’ll be using those instruments, in all of those ways,” Woody said. “Our kids will be over the moon with the opportunity to play these instruments. We are absolutely thrilled. This will change the way I teach in the classroom and it will certainly benefit our students.”
Amy Knight had a vision for the small groups that would fill her classroom when she submitted her project “Google Classrooms and Lunch and Learn Reading,” which was awarded $480.30 in grant funding.
Knight, a fifth grade English and language arts teacher at Gray Elementary School, said she hopes to help her students hone their writing and editing skills with a Google Classroom for all three blocks of her classes and a printer to print out their writings.
Knight said she also plans to sacrifice her lunch period two to three days a week to set up a coffee shop-like setting to allow students to work in groups, read books and discuss their work.
“(the Lunch and Learn setting will) give everybody a chance to learn and everybody a chance to read on their level and work on their level and interact with other kids that their not actually in class with,” Knight said. “We’ll be able to bring some of the children in and take turns and read with other children they don’t normally get to do that with.”
According to Valerie Moore, Fall Branch School has had a real desire to get to a one-to-one student-to-device ratio. And now, they are a step closer thanks to the $4,777.60 grant Moore secured with her “One, Two, Three, Four: We Need Chromebooks to Learn Some Moore” projects.
Moore, who is a second and third grade teachers, said the grant will add 16 Chromebooks to the shared second and third grade cart. Moore shared her excitement in the future added technology while also recognizing that keeping strong teaching skills at the forefront won’t disappear with new technology.
“We also realize that Chromebooks do not replace good teaching practices,” Moore said. “We know that. But we do realize that Chromebooks will enhance and support our students in their learning. And to that we’re grateful to QUEST for providing this opportunity for our students and making that possible.”
In addition to the QUEST grants, Christie Bass and Mary Jane Allen from Jonesborough Middle School were also awarded $10,0000 for a flexible seating project from QUEST and Comcast Cable.
Bass is a seventh grade language arts and social studies teacher and Allen is the instructional coach at JMS. The grant money will go towards making Bass’s classroom more comfortable for students in hopes of creating a more conducive learning environment.
“As we look at the world and how it’s changing in corporate America, there are many companies focused on the comfort and care of their adults,” Allen said. “What they have found is, the more comfortable we are, the more pleasing our environment is, the better our brains work.
“It’s not just a furniture grant. It’s a grant that presents itself as flexible seating to make sure that our students are as engaged as possible in the classroom.