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Foundation Awards More Than $16,000 in Grants to Local Teachers

A teacher helps a student.

During a school year where teachers and students are facing unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation has stepped forward to help, awarding more than $16,000 in grants to local teachers.

The grants were provided through the Foundation's Excellence in Education Initiative, an effort that offers grants to teachers who have innovative ideas for classroom projects.

Patrick Gale, vice president for Community Investment, said the Foundation adapted the program this year in response to the pandemic.

"We knew the Excellence in Education program was going to be different this year. Everything has been different this year. But for teachers, what we’re asking them to do is bold — care for our children, keep them safe, and teach them skills for the future — all while facing an unpredictable, invisible virus every day they walk into the classroom. So, this year is different. This year we decided all of our teachers are winners. Every teacher who applied for funding through the Excellence in Education Initiative received a grant. From cardio drumming equipment to outdoor classroom furniture and microscopes to ipads, innovation is alive and well in the classroom," he said.

To all of our courageous teachers out there — we’re with you, we appreciate you, and we thank you.

— Patrick Gale, Vice President, Community Investment

2020 Excellence in Education Initiative grant recipients:

  • Alex Waldner, Holy Spirit Elementary. Waldner will use the grant to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) exploration. Waldner’s idea is to create STEM bins featuring items such as Brain Flakes, Pix Brix, Magformers, BlocksRock, KleenSlates, LEGO and more to give students hands-on opportunities to create, invent and imagine.
  • Heidi Reynolds, RF Pettigrew Elementary and Renberg Elementary. Reynolds is an elementary instructional coach for the Sioux Falls School District. She received two grants: One grant will support an initiative at RF Pettigrew Elementary called “Kindness Always Matters.” With the stress of the pandemic, Pettigrew has prioritized its focus on kindness, specifically human connections and compassion, among students and staff. Components of the initiative include Random Acts of Kindness challenges and interior signage featuring quotes about kindness as well as anti-bullying messages. Another grant will support an initiative at Renberg Elementary called “Pathway to Learning.” The effort imagines a sensory path inside one of the school’s hallways which could be used by students throughout the day when they need to push through distractions and deal with stress. The path would enable students to walk, jump, skip and bounce through letters, colors and numbers, promoting motor skills, balance, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination at the same time.
  • Jenny Quissell, Christ the King Elementary. Quissell will use the grant to support a project called “Coding Through the Ages.” The project features a robotic device called Bee-Bots, a coding tool designed to help young learners master computational and critical thinking skills. By reducing the complexity of coding, Bee-Bots enhances the process of learning how to solve problems with creativity, communication, collaboration and critical reflection.
  • Leticia Miranda, Sonia Sotomayor Elementary. Miranda’s grant will support a School Media Studio, a recording studio managed by the fifth grade team and used to record and stream school announcements. The studio is also used for other multimedia projects designed to enrich learning opportunities. All fifth graders get a chance to participate in the School Media Studio. Students can choose to be in front of the camera as the host, or help behind the camera in technical roles. Announcements are recorded every morning and are sent to all staff so every classroom can see the daily broadcast.
  • Heather Miller, Sioux Falls Lutheran School. Miller will use the grant to support a project called “God’s Light Pumpkin Patch and Garden.” The idea allows students to plant and care for pumpkin seeds, observe their growth, and pick a pumpkin. Seeds are planted indoors in the fall, replanted outside in the school’s garden in the spring, and are cared for over the summer by students in the school’s summer program. In the fall, students will have a chance to pick a pumpkin for their home. The project incorporates scientific exploration and discovery; math necessary to weigh, count and measure seeds and pumpkins; reading and language arts; and social studies as students will share their crop with different members of the community.
  • Peggy Maxwell, Dell Rapids St. Mary Catholic School. Maxwell’s grant will support items designed to help preschool and junior kindergarten students engage in hands-on learning experiences while using the school’s Outdoor Classroom.
  • Stephanie Hage, John Harris Elementary. Hage was awarded two grants: One grant will support “Cardio Drumming: We’ve Got the Beat,” a new program that infuses music and physical education by allowing students to participate in a fun and invigorating activity while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Students use rhythm sticks or drumsticks to drum out beats and patterns on stability balls while also performing exercises. Another grant will support a project called “Hurricane Book Heroes,” an effort to purchase new books with diverse themes for the school’s library. From there, book clubs, small group dialogue and classroom discussion will challenge and inspire students to listen and understand various viewpoints in an effort to better understand today’s changing world.
  • Diane Laycock, Holy Spirit School. Laycock will use the grant for a project called “STEM Center and iPad Enrichment.” The effort is designed to help the school’s pre-kindergarten students engage in STEM exploration through the use of Osmo games, an educational gaming accessory designed to help students engage in intellectual play, Coding Robots and iPad technology.
  • Elsa Flores, Sonia Sotomayor Elementary. Flores will use the grant to support the acquisition of Merge Cubes, technology designed to provide third grade students with interactive learning experiences that merge together subject areas such as social studies, science and math. Students will have a chance to experience 3D views of animals, continents, the ocean, space and more.
  • Alexis Briggs, Holy Spirit School. Briggs will use the grant to purchase a set of student microscopes and slides, enabling students to explore and discover while building experience working with the scientific method.
  • Katie Ristau, RF Pettigrew Elementary. Ristau’s grant will support “Project Physics,” an effort to help students understand forces, inertia and simple machines. Using tools such as Marble Run, Kinex and Teva Planks, Project Physics aims to make learning fun while offering students hands-on learning experiences.

The Barb Preloger Excellence in Education Grant is awarded in memory of a longtime teacher who loved to see her students succeed. Barb Preloger served the Sioux Falls School District for fifteen years, teaching language arts, social studies and music. Following her death in 2014, Barb’s family established a fund at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation to support local teachers who embody Barb’s spirit of care and her dedication to students.

  • Ken Lindemann, a teacher from O’Gorman High School, is the recipient of the Barb Preloger Excellence in Education Grant. Lindemann will use the grant to support a project called “Keep Students Moving Forward,” an effort that deploys iPad technology to help students succeed in their mathematics coursework. By using an app called Explain Everything, along with the iPad’s video technology and an Apple pencil, teachers can create video tutorials for students with questions and can record videos of daily classroom lectures, enabling students who are away from school to stay on track with their learning goals.