STAR Foundation awards Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants to Tomahawk teachers
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – Five Tomahawk teachers – two from St. Mary’s Catholic School and three from the School District of Tomahawk – were recently awarded Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants from the STAR (Support Tomahawk Area Resources) Foundation.
The STAR Foundation acts as a community chest for businesses and individuals, making 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, noting that since its inception in April 2004, the Foundation has donated more than $400,000.00 to local community groups.
The Foundation explained that its Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants, which impact pre-K through 12th grade students, are designed to “enhance and reward innovative teaching, learning and special motivational activities” in public and private schools in the Tomahawk area.
A total of $4,780.00 was allocated to projects led by Adam Gessler and Abby Hrdina of St. Mary’s School; and Paula Norman, Allison Ewart and Denise Lechleitner of the School District of Tomahawk.
Adam Gessler said the hydroponic garden at St. Mary’s School is a “wonderful way not only to promote healthy eating, but to also teach kids what plants need in order to grow and how to be responsible and take care of the growing plants.”
The new garden carries a roughly $5,000.00 price tag, and over the last three years, Gessler and others have been fundraising and working towards this goal.
“Being awarded this grant allowed us to be able to purchase the garden,” he stated.
Students recently harvested ten pounds of fresh green lettuce for the school’s lunch program, and Gessler estimated that the next harvest could yield 15 to 20 pounds of lettuce.
“The harvest will allow us to donate some of the produce to the community soup kitchen and offer it to the families of the school,” Gessler stated. “It will also teach kids the importance of eating healthy and possibly starting their own gardens in the future, which could potentially benefit communities around the U.S.”
Looking forward, Gessler said he hopes the garden will “run on a regular basis throughout the school year for as long as possible.”
Abby Hrdina used her grant funds to purchase 12 bins and numerous science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) manipulatives, which include a marble runner, pattern blocks, a bucket scale, a magnet kit, a weather lab kit, worm foam, a solar system model and a microscope.
Hrdina said she originally aimed to use manipulatives for a STEAM shelf for specific lessons as they were implemented.
“However, I found that my students requested the shelf often, so I now use it on ‘Fun Fridays’ for exploration centers,” she explained.
Hrdina said her students “love the manipulatives and request them often,” adding that it inspired her to use funds to purchase additional manipulatives.
Through the manipulatives, students have the opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering, art and math.
“These are essential skills needed by my students to be future-educated, knowledgeable and productive adult citizens in the working world,” Hrdina stated, noting that she is continuing to expand her STEAM shelf manipulatives.
A project led by Paula Norman involved purchasing books for the StoryWalk that was installed on the elementary school playground last year.
The funds allowed Norman to implement a new rotation of books on a monthly basis.
With a QR code on display, Norman said she hopes to get more feedback as families use the playground over the summer.
Norman said she may look to utilize STAR Foundation grants in the future to purchase additional books.
Enriching Lives, Round 2
Elementary, middle and high school students were again offered the opportunity to learn about sewing thanks to another project helmed by Norman.
“The sewing wasn’t as big of a hit at the high school level,” Norman noted. “However, the funding did purchase fleece to make tie blankets, which were then donated to the Lincoln County Humane Society.”
Norman said elementary and middle school students were “very excited to have the opportunity to sew again.”
A total of 110 elementary students in grades 3 through 5 utilized their recess times to learn how to sew.
“The middle schoolers definitely took advantage of the posters and the chalkboard paints and markers to make the space their own,” Norman said. “The board games and other supplies were also heavily used and implemented into their day and programming.”
Norman said sewing – both by hand and machine – is “always a benefit.”
“Anytime students can find solace in a library, I believe the future of the community looks brighter,” she stated.
Culinary Enrichment Activities
Grant funds awarded to Allison Ewart allowed Tomahawk High School students to cook with local foods, as well as foods that are ripe in a given time of year.
“The students really enjoyed having the opportunity to make different food items to take home or have as an afternoon snack,” Ewart said, noting that students purchased items from The Cheese Shoppe and Trig’s in Tomahawk.
Ewart said students utilized their 40-minute resource hours to make quick and easy box treats, homemade farm-fresh apple crisp, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, as well as Christmas cookies and Lucky Charm rice crispies for St. Patrick’s Day.
With resource hours being 19 minutes long next school year, Ewart said she will reassess the culinary enrichment program.
Denise Lechleitner said her laser engraver project is a way to integrate more hands-on experiences for her students.
“The students are given an opportunity to enhance their design and manufacturing skills in the classroom,” Lechleitner explained. “Incorporating the laser engraver is a way to demonstrate design, engineering and manufacturing. The students have been given an opportunity to learn more about design elements that include ways to create unique designs, how to design different items to meet the needs of the client, how to create a design using a new piece of equipment.”
Lechleitner added that students have also been able to learn more about a new form of manufacturing through use of the laser engraver.
“The students are greatly enjoying their time learning about and using the laser engraver,” Lechleitner said. “They enjoy creating designs that are unique to themselves, as well as creating things for others. The students have taken their time to learn more about the design elements discussed in class and applying them to their projects. Students are excited to continue to use the laser engraver more.”
Lechleitner noted that design and manufacturing skills learned through using the laser engraver can be used throughout students’ lives, adding that students are also learning more about working with new technologies that can enhance their skills as they continue into middle and high school engineering classes.
The laser engraver “will be able to continue to be an asset for many years as the students continue through the STEM program,” according to Lechleitner.
“As the students continue to develop their design skills, they will be able to become more independent with the designing and creating on the laser engraver,” she stated. “Students will also have the opportunity to use the laser engraver to create items for their school pride store.”
Learn more about the STAR Foundation
For more information about the STAR Foundation, visit www.tomahawkstarfoundation.org/.