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Grants for Great Ideas Encourages Teachers to Think Outside the Box (October, 2006)

Frisco ReadsThe Grants for Great Ideas Program for Frisco Independent School District teachers is a way for the Frisco Education Foundation to help students and teachers enjoy an enhanced learning environment.

Teachers who apply for grants to implement a program into their curriculum await the news that they have won with great anticipation. Members of the FEF Board roam the halls of schools bearing balloons and a giant “check” to present to winning educators. The FEF committee considers each grant proposal carefully and tries to pick programs that bring something new and unusual to the classroom. Grants are applied for in September and winners are notified in November. The foundation has reported receiving an overwhelming number of applicants this year.

Pam Meis of I.S. Rogers applied last year for funding for her music classes to obtain “Boomwhackers” brightly colored tubes that can be used to teach rhythm, melody, and beat. They can even be used to teach dance. Meis says that students beg to play the boomwhackers and that she thinks they have helped students obtain musical confidence.

“It is like playing drums without the drum! They are the best instrument I’ve ever played. They make the perfect sound and the perfect rhythm,” said Kristen Crock of Rogers.

Frisco Reads is perhaps the largest program that Grants for Great Ideas helps fund. The Foundation partnered with Horace Mann Insurance to bring the program to FISD this year. Each year two published authors are invited to speak to FISD librarians and teachers about the art of writing as a part of staff development. In addition to speaking to teachers, the authors visit classrooms and meet with students to talk about their books, the characters and how they accomplish their craft.

This month’s Frisco Reads promises to be the largest in the past five years of conducting the program, according to Leigh Ann Jones, FISD Library Coordinator. More than 250 teachers have signed up to attend the staff development program. Rick Riordan whose book The Lightning Thief is a Bluebonnet nominee has been scheduled to speak to 18 elementary schools and Neal Shusterman who writes for young adults will speak to all six middle schools. He is known for

The Schwa Was Here.
 Students report that they are inspired to be better writers after meeting authors. The authors help the students see how characters are created and ideas are transformed into books.

Some grant winners have helped FISD teachers become better teachers and to provide new curriculum for Frisco students. The FEF grant program provided matching funds to Derek McDowell, who is now at Liberty High School, so he could collaborate with Professor Wayne Jones of Collin County Community College and to train in photonics technology instruction. He also participated in a two-week summer internship at Photodigm, Inc. in Richardson. As a result McDowell developed a new course called Introduction to Photonics to be taught as an Independent Studies course in FISD high schools. Photonics technology is the practical application of light and is used in lasers, fiber optics, and a number of products and industries.

Allison Miller, director of FEF, praises this aspect of the Foundation’s work. “Grants for Great Ideas has the potential to touch many different children’s lives. For our employees who partake in the payroll deduction plan, it is a way to know their dollars are working all over the district. It tells our teachers that we are listening and that we support them taking time to improve on what they do every day.”