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Grants Bring Teachers' Ideas to Life

2022 Excellence in Education Grants

Sixteen area teachers with innovative ideas for classroom projects have received grants through the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation's Excellence in Education Initiative.

“Every day teachers go above and beyond to inspire our kids, so we’re honored to help bring their innovative ideas to life through this grant-making program,” said Patrick Gale, vice president for Community Investment. “We celebrate all our amazing teachers and we extend our deepest congratulations to our 2022 Excellence in Education grant recipients."


  • Tanya Brazones, Sioux Falls Christian High School: Brazones’ grant will support the launch of a bird watching club. A school garden area will be expanded to include different bird feeders and bird seed, along with different tools to learn more about birds and their patterns. The club will meet weekly to fill the feeders and discuss the types of birds students and staff are identifying. Bird watching improves mental health by easing symptoms of depression and anxiety, encourages physical health by walking and spending time outdoors, and supports mindfulness by causing students to shift their attention and live in the moment.
  • Justin Cook, Laura B. Anderson: This grant will support Project Bilingual Library Books, an effort to build a collection of bilingual books within the school’s library that includes home languages of all its ELL students. The aim is to help students be able to purposefully read and learn in both languages, and to expose native English speaking students to other languages and cultures, further developing even better relationships among all students within a culturally diverse school.
  • Darwin Daugaard, O'Gorman High School: This grant will support a project called “I Think I've Lost My Marbles,” an effort to incorporate spheros (robotic balls) into physics and engineering classes to help students learn about velocity and acceleration, and to develop skills in coding, graphing and measurement.
  • Mike Groher, Children's Home Society - Loving School: This grant will support the addition of a unique program for teachers, teacher assistants, educational support staff and students called “180 Days of Educational Neuroscience: Scope and Sequence,” a toolkit that explores and applies social and emotional neurosciences with a goal to create a safe and structured environment for increased learning.
  • Sarah Hansen, Horizon Elementary: Hansen’s grant will support “Crayons for a Cause,” an effort to recycle old crayons into new ones for a good cause. During a special week, one classroom will be transformed into "The Crayon Factory" where learners will rotate through stations to peel, sort, smash, melt, mold and package old Crayola crayons into new shapes. Once they're packaged, they're sold to families and community members. All money raised goes directly to the school’s Needy/Cares fund.
  • Rebecca J Hirschman, JFK Elementary School: This grant will support the addition of Dot and Dash, a pair of robots designed to teach kids how to code. Both Dot and Dash are capable of interacting with their surroundings by detecting sounds, objects and movement. Dash can dance, sing and respond to voice commands. Dot has similar capabilities but is stationary. With the help of apps, kids can learn to program these robots to learn and play games, send messages, solve puzzles and even complete obstacle courses.
  • Barry Lawrensen, Sioux Falls Christian School: This grant will support a curriculum unit where students can research and design a custom Automata. Automata have been made since the Middle ages, popularized in the Renaissance in Europe. De Vinci created a complex mechanical knight, and watchmakers in Switzerland and France made complex metal models including mechanical gears and figures, animated through hand-crank mechanisms or more complex spring-wound assemblies. In this unit, seventh and eighth grade students will learn how to make Automata from wood materials, which they will cut with hand saws and scroll saws in the STEM Classroom. This project applies measurement, geometry, and scale, as well as physics applications with gears, cams, and other mechanisms, which students will design and cut out themselves using 1/4" plywood and solid wood components. The complete Automata will be shared with younger students and others, including elderly residents in the larger community.
  • Laura Lunder, Holy Spirit Elementary: This grant will support the addition of a Science Center in Lunder’s classroom. The center will feature hands-on STEM and science activities that will rotate throughout the year.
  • Danielle Martin, Adventure Elementary: This grant will support the purchase of Sphero Indi Robots, designed to incorporate problem solving and computational thinking into literacy, language and math development for early learners. The technology will introduce students to basic coding and computer science, and will help them integrate technology into math and reading. K-2 students will use Indi the Robot to practice storytelling, pattern recognition, algorithmic thinking, abstract thinking, measurement, spatial relationships and shapes.
  • Rochelle Pierson, John Harris Elementary: Pierson’s grant will support Glow Day, a special themed day featuring classroom learning activities that glow in the dark. The first Glow Day will review math. Students will rotate through stations that incorporate glow-in-the-dark elements with lessons in multiplication, division, word problems, models, properties of multiplication, factors, multiples and more. As the academic year progresses, additional Glow Days will support reviews in ELA and other subjects.
  • Krystine Reavis, JFK Elementary: Reavis’ grant will support an effort called “Challenging the Mind to Reach New Heights,” a project that will allow all K-5 learners to be immersed in books and lessons. The grant will support the purchase of items to be used during library time to enhance a story and give students a chance to apply what they hear and see to recreate what is found in the plot, including magnetic blocks that easily go together to create the setting or objects in a story, fidgets to help some students focus on learning, a simple MP3 player to help those who need the volume higher, and boxes to store and keep objects clean and safe.
  • Jeremy Roberts, Sioux Falls Christian School: This grant will support a project called “Future Farming” where 11th and 12th grade students in the Plant Science course will be directly involved in the process of growing plants, including the practice of vertical farming. Students will learn the details of growing plants vertically, including what nutrients they need to add in the absence of soil, and what productivity is possible through this type of 'futuristic' farming. The produce will then be donated to families who live in food deserts throughout the city.
  • Sarah Spronk, Sioux Falls Christian School: This grant will support the introduction of “Executive Functioning,” a focus on working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control to help students be successful by developing and improving their planning, organizing, task initiation, flexibility, attention, self-regulation, working memory, time management and perseverance skills.
  • Britney Vercruysse, Sioux Falls Lutheran School: This grant will support a project called “Sensory Sensations,” an effort to increase sensory awareness in students. The project will feature a Sensory Center which will allow students to stimulate and increase sensory awareness through play and teacher instruction. The Center will feature a space to play, and will include sensory items teachers can check them out and integrate into the regular curriculum.
  • Rhonda Wilson, JFK Elementary: This grant will support a project called “Rain, Rain, Let's go Play,” using colorful and purposeful equipment to enhance play and develop gross motor skills among junior kindergarten students.


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 15 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.

Rise Jongeling, a teacher at Axtell Park, is the recipient of the 2022 Barb Preloger Excellence in Education Grant.

Jongeling will use the grant to enhance the school’s sensory garden through the addition of a lean-to greenhouse. The new structure will offer extended growing periods, offering more hands-on opportunities for students grow produce. Future ideas include incorporating the garden’s tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, strawberries and more into school lunches or snacks, and starting seedlings which could be sold to help students learn business related skills such as price indexing, material cost analysis and more.

Photo by RODNAE Productions.