Inspiring innovation in the classroom

Gunnison Valley Education Foundation offers grants to teachers

[ By Kendra Walker ]

The teachers here in the Gunnison Valley year after year demonstrate innovation and creativity in the classroom to help their students learn from different perspectives and engage with the community. This month they’ll have the opportunity to bring their innovative ideas to fruition with the Gunnison Valley Education Foundation’s (GVEF) annual Teacher Innovation Grant.

GVEF advocates for our local schools by providing financial support for student enrichment opportunities and promotes innovation in teaching and learning. GVEF’s Teacher Innovation Grant is available for any certified K-12 classroom teacher in the Gunnison Watershed School District and Marble, and awards $500 per teacher for innovative projects in the classroom. Teachers can also collaborate with their colleagues on larger-scale projects for up to $500 per teacher.

“The intent is to give teachers money that the school district couldn’t otherwise fund for innovative teaching, methods or concepts,” says Emily Pannier, GVEF treasurer and parent of two former Gunnison Watershed students. “We support all teachers who have a qualified grant proposal, and it impacts hundreds of children every year.”

As far as the parameters for innovative projects, the sky’s the limit, says Pannier. “Sometimes we grant funds for teaching methods, and sometimes for teaching concepts,” she says. “Really it’s up to the big idea that the teacher has.” GVEF encourages teachers to develop original ideas that enrich core curriculum, experiment with solving instructional challenges in the classroom and encourage collaboration and partnerships with other teachers, parents and the community. Past projects have included swim lessons for kids with special needs, reading programs, solar power projects and students making their own skis.

“Teachers that choose to apply are always so excited to win a grant and implement their new idea,” says Pannier, who looks forward to hearing from teachers every grant cycle when they report back their progress.
Pannier estimates that between eight to 15 projects get funded each year, based on what teachers bring forward in applications. Last year’s grant funded 10 teachers, who are currently implementing their project during this school year.

Crested Butte Community School fourth grade teacher Amelia Poppe was a grant recipient this year, and has created a reading program that helps her students become builders of their own classroom library. Through the project, her students will create a book proposal where they research books and new literature they’re interested in, write and present a proposal to the class, order the books and then categorize them in the library once they arrive.

“Sometimes we get so involved in reading on the computer or on Kindles or reading online, and I want to get my students excited to have books in their hands,” says Poppe. “And as teachers we don’t always help the kids be part of building their own resources and be owners in the classroom. This is really about A) getting good books in their hands that they’re excited about and B) giving them that ownership of the library and use each other as resources.”

Poppe says this project is part of one of her goals to help her students become leaders in their own class, and her fourth graders just finished their first round of book proposals. They’ve ordered the books and are expecting them to arrive any day.

The new grant cycle is currently open for applications until March 31, and recipients will be awarded in April or May, says Pannier. They will then be able to implement their project beginning this fall for the 2021-2022 school year.

And while the grant is only intended to fund teachers, Pannier says the ideas don’t have to strictly come just from teachers. “Even parents have big ideas and can go talk to the teacher and discuss innovation and creativity in the classroom. There’s always potential for your child to be positively impacted through our funding.”

And because last year’s grant cycle was awarded pre-COVID times, Pannier is curious to see what kind of ideas come through in this spring’s applications. “It will be interesting to see if anything is COVID-oriented this year,” she says.

GVEF is a component of the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley and originates from the community-based initiative Kids Kount established in 2003, which addressed state legislation (TABOR) requiring school districts in Colorado to replenish reserve funds. The GVEF remains committed to providing mini-grants for teachers with innovative ideas for their classroom to improve their students’ successes; however, has not been able to do their typical fundraising this past year because of COVID-19. GVEF’s mission to continue raising funds to provide these types of enriching educational experiences in local schools is critical more than ever, and donations are especially welcome and appreciated in order to continue providing this opportunity, says Pannier.

“It’s really fun to see money go directly to teachers to implement their innovative endeavors to help students learn in a different way,” says Pannier. “I love the creativity brought out by the teachers in the grant process so that their students can have more creative learning experience.”

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