Local teachers get classroom cash grants

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 8, 2019

 Students in Renee Atkins’ class at Rodgers Elementary School in Lake Shore Public Schools make pancakes to connect with the book “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” Atkins received a grant to help fund her “literature and lunch” program for moderately cognitively impaired students.

Students in Renee Atkins’ class at Rodgers Elementary School in Lake Shore Public Schools make pancakes to connect with the book “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” Atkins received a grant to help fund her “literature and lunch” program for moderately cognitively impaired students.

Photo provided by Renee Atkins

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Books, cooking supplies, puppets and more will hit classrooms in St. Clair Shores thanks to cash grants from Michigan Schools & Government Credit Union.

This year, MSGCU’s Classroom Cash Grant program paid out $51,375 to 71 different educators in 52 schools across metro Detroit, including six in St. Clair Shores.

“We strongly believe in the power of education and the important role educators play in the development of our youth,” MSGCU President and CEO Pete Gates said in a statement. “We are humbled to provide this resource to educators as they plan creative and impactful learning experiences in their classrooms this year.”

The winners of the Classroom Cash Grants are determined based on total votes cast online by students, parents, colleagues, friends and family. More than 100,000 votes were cast during the 10-day voting period this year.

Teachers said that the grants are a great way to get extras for their classrooms without having to pay for them themselves.

“It’s helpful to me as a teacher because the money doesn’t come out of my pocket,” said Renee Atkins, a speech language pathologist at Rodgers Elementary School in Lake Shore Public Schools. “It does become expensive rather quickly.”

She applied for, and won, a grant to pay for a program for her moderately cognitively impaired students that she called “literature and lunch.” Atkins picks a book that can relate to food and uses different activities to help her second to fifth grade students engage better with the text.

“We do language activities like asking questions, sequencing, retelling for a couple days; then we do some sort of food-based activity, real world cooking because that’s part of their curriculum,” she said. “It’s very engaging and it helps them with the retention of the information. They get really excited about the cooking, and so then they remember the contents of the book.”

Kelli Herr, a preschool teacher at Rodgers Elementary, also won a grant for science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, supplies.

In Lakeview Public Schools, three teachers at the Lakeview Early Childhood Center won grants from MSGCU.

Preschool teacher Janet Brady said that she is using the funds to rehabilitate the puppet area of her classroom, which is so popular that some of the old puppets no longer look like what they were supposed to represent.

“We want them to be using it to build language skills, to be working on socializing ... so they can have their own conversations and work on being community helpers,” Brady said.

This is the second time she’s won a grant through the program.

“You just don’t have the money to buy the ... things that are very helpful but are considered extras,” she said.

Preschool teacher Tamiko Kuykendall said that she is using the money to improve the classroom reading area. She is adding a listening center so the children can feel like independent learners and purchasing a wider variety of books with the grant.

“It’s a way to keep things updated in the classroom to make sure our kids get a full learning experience,” she said, adding that she won a grant last year as well. “Some kids might get overwhelmed, so this reading area will give them a place for them to go for a little quiet area where they can relax.”

She said that she appreciates the support from people in the community, who had to vote in order for her to be awarded the grant.

“It just helps to know that people are out there supporting us, to give us the opportunity to do those things for the kids in the area,” she said.

Heather Weaver also was awarded a grant for a creative kitchen at the Lakeview Early Childhood Center. Also in Lakeview Public Schools, Julie Demers at Harmon Elementary won a grant for learning through play and movement for her classroom.

To see all of the winners, visit classroomcash.org.

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