Nearly $14,000 in grant money recently was awarded to Onalaska public and private school teachers to pursue innovative ideas, a big bump from last year’s $8,700 total.

Since the Onalaska Education Foundation started giving out Claude Deck Innovative Grants in 1995, almost $94,000 has been awarded.

“Basically, the idea was to provide grant money to teachers for some of their creative ideas that would impact the kids,” said Deck, the former Onalaska school superintendent who helped get the program started. “We hope this keeps going forever and ever.”

Barb Abbott, the LMC director at Irving Pertzsch Elementary, is in her 17th year with the district, and she has been successful almost every year in getting an OEF grant.

"She does a good sales pitch," OEF board President Bill O'Driscoll said at a recent ceremony to honor grant recipients.

This year, Abbott and fellow elementary LMC directors Crystal Brunelle and Stephanie Coorough sought and received a $1,000 grant for an enhanced audio and electronic book library, which students can access from home as well as at school.

A lot of people in the community might not realize that there's a greenhouse at the high school. In fact, a lot of people at the high school don't know about it, either, and teachers Rhett Hanson and David Horann wanted to change that.

"I was kind of tired of watching our greenouse not being used," Hanson said.

They applied for and received a $750 grant to set up an aquaponics system in the greenhouse. Aquaponics combines the aquaculture involved in the raising of aquatic creatures, such as fish, snails and crawfish, with hydroponics, which involves growing plants in water. The waste from fish, normally considered an aquaculture waste product, is used to enhance the growing of plants in aquaponics.

Hanson said the 300-gallon tank and four to six growing beds will be set up by a couple senior students as an independent study project, adding that he hopes the aquaponics system will help boost student interest in botany studies.

Onalaska High School French teachers Amy Ticknor and Brian Wopat were awarded a $892 grant for iPads and applications that will let them use the iPads to control what appears on their SmartBoards. With wireless connections, they can control the SmartBoards from anywhere in the classroom, and can even allow students to control them, the modern equivalent of going up to the front of the class to write on the chalkboard.

Christiana Martin, who teaches music at Eagle Bluff Elementary, won two grant awards. A $728 grant will pay for contra bass bars to help beginning musicians learn to play together and introduce them to the playing of barred instruments (think xylophone). The other grant, one for $1,000, will pay for a music library meeting Common Core standards that will enable integration of music into K-1 classrooms with the goal of using music to help teach literacy skills.

Maria Olinger, an art teacher at Onalaska Middle School, was awarded an $800 grant for a program utilizing iPads that allows for research, collaboration and creation of art, with students sharing their work, writing artists' statements and critiquing the art work of others. "Eventually, we want to have students have to chance to look at others' art work across the schools, Olinger said.

Purchase of iPads also figure prominently in a grant requested and received by Onalaska Middle School music teacher Gina Bork. The $2,496 grant will allow for creation of a virtual band, with students using iPads playing virtual instruments, that will be hooked up to an eight-channel sound system, with students creating songs in a wide variety of musical genres.

"Maybe we'll take it on the road eventually," Bork said with a laugh.

Eagle Bluff teachers Diane Eickmeier,Sharon Wingate, Lindsey Hilton, Allison Pratt, Naomi Benjamin and Robyn Foye collaborated on a successful grant request for $2,700 for the common area in the purple wing of the school for fine motor, science and dramatic play equipment.

Onalaska Middle School teachers Stephanie Reuter and Peggy Vogel had an idea for a way to integrate science, math and social studies curriculum that involved taking all sixth-graders to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, where exhibits and live presentations are aligned with the Common Core. A grant of $1,461 from the OEF will help make sure that the trip is affordable for all students.

This year there was one grant for a private school in Onalaska, a $2,000 grant to pay for a Learning Ally audio library that will help students who have fallen below grade level in reading and need help with their daily work.

The OEF, which also funds Acts of Kindness funds in the Onalaska schools to help students in need, raises money from a variety of sources. About a third of the money for the grants comes from the La Crosse Community Foundation.

The OEF also recently held a fundraiser at Burrachos restaurant, which donated 20 percent of sales from the evening of Oct. 17 to the OEF. The OEF's big fundraiser every year is the Taste of Onalaska event. the 2014 edition will be held Jan. 25 at Stoney Creek Inn and will feature entertainment and food from area restaurants including Burrachos, Red Pines, Grizzly's, Traditions, Olive Garden, Blue Moon, Caribou Coffee, Seasons by the Lake and Premier Catering.

Former Onalaska Superintendent John Burnett, who also was at the OEF grant ceremony, said the district’s taxpayers have been very supportive of the district, but the OEF was started to fill a financial gap that helps teachers get a chance to try things outside the box.

“As good as our board was, as good as our community was, we just didn’t have the money to do all the innovative things we wanted to,” Burnett said.

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Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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