Five Tomahawk educators receive STAR Foundation’s Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – Five Tomahawk educators – three from the School District of Tomahawk and two from St. Mary’s Catholic School – were recently awarded Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants from the STAR Foundation.
Acting as a community chest for businesses and individuals, the STAR (Support Tomahawk Area Resources) Foundation makes charitable grants to community groups, clubs and non-profit organizations that contribute to the health and vitality of the Tomahawk area.
“The Tomahawk STAR Foundation provides support to groups and/or organizations when they need it,” the Foundation’s website says. “Since its inception in April 2004, the STAR Foundation has donated more than $400,000.00 to local community groups in both general and restricted contributions.”
The Foundation explained that its Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants are designed to “enhance and reward innovative teaching, learning and special motivational activities” in public and private Tomahawk-area schools. The grants affect pre-K through 12th grade students.
A total of $5,000.00 in grant funds will be split among Paula Norman, Allison Ewart and Denise Lechleitner of the School District of Tomahawk and Abby Hrdina and Adam Gessler of St. Mary’s Catholic School.
In their grant applications, the educators provided information about their projects.
School District of Tomahawk educator Paula Norman will allocate a portion of her grant funds toward promoting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education.
In her application, Norman explained that STEAM education is an extension of the library media centers and “a necessity today.”
Norman said she wanted to expand the art component during enrichment time in the elementary school, during TEAM time in the middle school and during resource hour in the high school.
“Students are looking for outlets when they access the libraries, and based on my funding from the state, many of the supplies I need to purchase for expanded learning opportunities cannot be funded by this money,” she stated. “Since the sewing experience last year was such a hit, I would like to continue it this year. Students keep asking me if they can sew again.”
Norman noted that she also wanted to purchase more supplies, such as board games, chalk paint and markers, so students can “have ownership of their libraries by decorating and creating their space.”
“With a growing economy that has a higher demand for STEAM fields, it’s important that the next generation learns how they can make a difference in their world,” Norman stated. “Sewing is an art, requires a lot of math, and problem solving. The skills gained would enhance any student’s education, no matter what career they choose to pursue in the future. Board games require strategy and problem solving skills, which are also useful in any career. Finally, art and ‘projects’ enhance all curriculums and is a huge part of the social emotional component of education.”
Along with the STEAM education project, Norman was also awarded grant funds that will go toward the StoryWalk® exhibit recently installed on the Tomahawk Elementary School playground.
StoryWalk® exhibits, from Pannier Graphics, are pedestal frames that display story pages between two pieces of acrylic. The pedestals are designed to be installed along outdoor paths near schools, libraries or other places throughout communities.
Norman, who recently received a grant from the Herb Kohl Foundation, noted that although those grant dollars covered the purchase and installation of the pedestal frames, there was very little left over to purchase the books to be displayed in the exhibit, which is where the STAR Foundation comes in.
With the Beyond Crayons & Chromebooks grant monies, Norman said she can purchase more books to allow for a monthly rotation.
“A StoryWalk® literally combines a story and a walk,” Norman stated. “It is a way to combine physical activity with literacy. … As a librarian, my job is to promote a love, excitement and appreciation for books, as well as an appreciation for the outdoors.”
Allison Ewart of the School District of Tomahawk will use her grant funds to run two-day culinary enrichment activities.
Ewart explained that as part of the activites, students will cook items with local food or food that is ripe in a given time of the year.
In the past, Ewart’s classes have used donated food items, such as pumpkins and apples, to make snacks for students to take home or enjoy during the day.
“The students really enjoyed having the opportunity to make different food items to take home or have as an afternoon snack,” Ewart stated. “More students want to be able to do this as well, but I do not offer it often due to the cost.”
As an example, Ewart said her class recently received a donation of apples, and 15 students had the opportunity to make applesauce.
“If I could have bought more apples to run the enrichment activity again for more students, I would have,” she said.
Ewart noted that it was great to hear feedback from students that would go home and show friends and family how to make applesauce.
“They emphasized to me how appreciative they were of the free opportunity, because when they went and bought the items they didn’t realize how expensive such a simple recipe can be,” she stated. “It would be great to continue these opportunities for students during months I would not be able to get local donations. Although community members are able to donate one ingredient, that usually doesn’t cover everything we need for a recipe.”
The enrichment activities are able to enhance every subject, Ewart added.
“When cooking in a kitchen, you are using many skills that relate to science, math, and reading,” she stated. “Did you realize you use science almost every time you are cooking? Do you understand the scientific reaction that baking soda does to create your product? Do we know how to do calculations when dividing a recipe in half or thirds? These are all great questions that will be answered and learned throughout the activities. Not only are they learning skills that will help students in their classes, they are able to improve their soft skills as well. When cooking in a group, they get to work on teamwork, organization and multitasking. They also would get opportunities to understand the behind the scenes work in the culinary field.”
Design and Manufacturing
Denise Lechleitner, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher for School District of Tomahawk students in grades K through 6, said she aims to use grant funds to “integrate more hands-on experiences” for her students.
“To enhance the design and manufacturing units in my classroom, I would like to incorporate a laser engraver to demonstrate the use of design, engineering and manufacturing to my students,” Lechleitner stated. “The students would be able to use what they learn about design principles and engineering manufacturing to create their own products. Students will be able to demonstrate how manufacturing processes work and develop design skills while being able to produce a product or outcome that they created.”
“Students will have the opportunity to learn about new engineering technology while applying their design skills,” she continued. “Students will continue to learn about the Engineering Design Process in STEM, and the laser engraver will give them the opportunity to learn more about the different types of manufacturing processes that use machinery such as a laser engraver.”
Lechleitner added that students will continue to apply their problem solving skills learned in class by doing reverse engineering when necessary.
The grant funds awarded to Abby Hrdina of St. Mary’s School will go toward a STEAM center.
Hrdina explained that her classroom does not have adequate shelving, so she would like a storage shelving unit as well as bins.
The STEAM Center items Hrdina will incorporate into her classroom along with the extra storage include a marble run, bucket balance scale, liquid measuring set, magnet set, weather science lab, worm farm, solar system model and pattern blocks.
“I feel this would be a great starter STEAM center,” Hrdina stated. “My goal is to continue to add to this STEAM center as time goes on.”
Hrdina added that her objective is to “provide students with hands-on learning to meet the academic standards for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.”
St. Mary’s School will see an upgrade to its hydroponic garden, as well as the addition of another garden, thanks to the grant funds awarded to 4th and 5th grade teacher Adam Gessler.
Gessler said the garden is a “great addition to our science curriculum, where the kids learn what plants need to grow and thrive.”
“(The students) are responsible for testing the PH of the water and how many parts per millions of nutrients are in the water for the plants and documenting these things on a weekly basis,” Gessler stated.
The hydroponic garden benefits not only learning in the classroom, but also in the school and the community as a whole, Gessler explained.
“Each harvest produces about 20-plus pounds of fresh lettuce and greens for our school lunch program every month,” Gessler said. “With an additional garden, we can grow up to 40 pounds.”
Gessler added that any leftover produce can be offered to families in the school and donated to the local community soup kitchen or others in need.
Learn more about STAR Foundation
To learn more about the STAR Foundation, visit www.tomahawkstarfoundation.org/ or www.facebook.com/Tomhawkstarfoundation/.