PUSD Education Foundation’s 5th ‘Prize Parade’ distributes $22K in teacher-innovation grants

Article originally published in The Daily Courier (Nanci Hutson) – December 7, 2021

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The thunderous beat of the Prescott High School drumline, mixed with sprays of red, blue, and green balloons and cheers of excited education advocates and administrators marching down hallways, surprised teachers and students on four Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) campuses Friday morning.

The fun fanfare was all about honoring innovation in education and the people of the Prescott community to embrace it with their pocketbooks: just under $22,000 worth to be exact.

For the fifth year, the Prescott Unified Education Foundation celebrated individual and teams of teachers with education grants to help cover the expense of projects that would otherwise have no budget. Donning a Santa cap, PUSD Superintendent Joe Howard savored the chance to offer the community’s gratitude — backed with dollars — for teachers seeking novel ways to connect with students.

As the “prize parade” kicked off at Prescott High School, with students, faculty, and staff throughout the school popping out of their classrooms to see why the drumline was marching through the hallways, Foundation Executive Director Paul Kirchgraber and his fellow foundation members, administrators and staff members were all smiles.

“Our teachers deserve recognition for their awesomeness,”

said Nicole Peterson, who works in the district’s grants department and was part of the Granite Mountain English Language Learner team that was a grant recipient this year.

From creating a calm, confidence-building multi-sensory space for preschool children who require a break from the traditional classroom setting to launching a fifth- and sixth-grade “Living Library” where English language learners can script stories that share their culture and experience, these projects are all about student enrichment.

Discovery Gardens teacher Maria Perillo is heading up the renovations of that new classroom space and the English Language Learner team at Granite Mountain, Nicole Peterson and Rebecca Wood, are the backbone of that new resource to benefit the entire school community.

At Mile High Middle School, band and broadcasting teacher Ryan James is launching a new film production class and math specialist Joeli Tickner and instructional coach Lisa Derion will be offering “Tell Me Ozobot It,” an introduction to robotics. At Prescott High, two chemistry teachers, Gary Gray and Michelle Ritzer won grants to assist students with hands-on experiments related to different aspects of the field. The Granite Mountain special education team of Jennifer Pike, Erin Holloway, and Patricia Hummel are also creating a multi-sensory classroom setting for their students.

“It’s all about impact,”

said Prescott Education Foundation Executive Director Paul Kirchgraber of the grant program that to date has provided $177,000 in grants that enable teachers to launch new courses, expand upon existing ones, or even renovate and purchase materials to create new classroom environments. Often, teachers seek these grant dollars to buy supplementary materials or technology they expect will help them better engage students in the learning process.

The grants awarded to 11 teachers for seven projects ranged from just over $600 to almost $5,700. The Discovery Gardens’ project was the largest this year.

PHS chemistry teacher Gary Gray, whose project is titled “Probing Pressure and Dynamic Experiments,” said was clearly delighted Friday to once again be a star of the foundation’s “prize parade.”

Through its efforts, Gray said the foundation is enabling “innovation.”

Foundation Programs Vice-President Ginger Nolte told students and faculty at each site that these dollars are gifts from a generous community that embraces public education. These donors wish to empower teachers to seek out new ways to benefit their students. She and others agreed that it is heartwarming to be able to showcase how these donor dollars are making a difference in the lives of this community’s children.

“This is a gift to teachers to benefit you,” Nolte declared.