This year’s winning projects in the Keller ISD-Hudson Foundation Innovation Grants focus on inspiring students to learn.The fourth annual grant awards from the M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation went to six proposals for a total of $40,000. District employees vote on the recipients, who were announced on May 29.“We try to teach kids to be lifelong learners,” said Sha Olive, a special education teacher at Keller High School.Olive’s project, “Living the Dream to Learn,” benefits special education students from all Keller district high schools. The grant for $6,816 goes to purchase licenses for the Unique Learning System, which includes “News 2 You,” a weekly current events lesson with differentiation for four ability levels, and SymbolStix, a figure-based approach to reading, science, social studies and math comprehension. The figure drawings are matched up with word to help students expand their vocabulary.Olive had been using the “News 2 You” component in her classroom for the past year, paying for it out of her own pocket. She wanted her students to have age-appropriate materials and spark their interest in what’s going on in the world. Keller district speech therapist Monica Culwell also helped draw up the grant proposal after seeing the benefits of the program.“A lot of special education materials are not for the high school level but may go to the sixth grade,” Olive said. “Kids may not be intellectually able, but they’re not babies. They want materials that are at their level.”With four different ability levels in the curriculum, special education teachers can teach the same lesson to the whole class while meeting the needs of individual students, Olive said.The largest grant went to the third annual YAK Fest, or Young Adult Keller Book Festival, for $15,000. Keller High librarian Lucy Kubo and Central High librarian Janet Adams made the proposal.This past year, the YAK Fest tripled in attendance to more than 600 and nearly doubled the number of authors featured.“More teachers got involved this year to encourage students to go,” Kubo said. “It was not given as required attendance but an alternate assignment for a lot of classes.”The next YAK Fest is set for Jan. 25, 2014, at Central High School. A number of authors from around the country have already requested to be included in the event.Kubo said, “Without the grant, we would probably be limited to local authors.”The grant allows festival organizers to pay travel expenses and honorariums to top authors.The goal behind the book festival is to help students realize that they, too, could be authors with a lot of hard work and knowledge, Kubo said. It also encourages creativity.“It helps us remember that story is important in our lives,” she said. “Sometimes kids get so involved in school work that they don’t read on their own. We don’t want to lose the importance of imagination in the upper grades.”At the other end of the school spectrum, Diana Colby, librarian at the Keller Early Learning Center, received a $8,384 grant for a library/learning center at the school that serves pre-kindergartners. The grant covers the cost of wooden shelves on wheels that can adapt with a multi-use space that also serves as a parent community area and a science/technology lab.Colby said the library had been located in a small classroom. The larger space and access to computers will benefit kids, parents and teachers. Parents can easily check out items to take home. Kids will be able to read books and work on computers while teachers check out materials or use the space to plan and collaborate.“We wanted to make it more flexible so more people can use it,” she said.The grant also covered new bilingual materials for both Spanish and Vietnamese speakers.The other Hudson grants were:Bringing Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying program, to Trinity Meadows Intermediate School, a $5,200 grant proposed by school counselor Kelly Guidry.LEGO Education WeDo and StoryStarter kits for Ridgeview Elementary School, a $3,500 grant proposed by librarian Sarah Hibbitts. The LEGO learning tools encourage teamwork, creativity and science/technology skills.TiPi Talking Texas Style, a $1,800 grant to Hillwood Middle School history teacher Pat Ritchie, will bring in a real tipi and professional storytellers who make history come alive.
Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231 Twitter: @SandraEngelland