STAR Foundation awards Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks Grants to Tomahawk educators

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

TOMAHAWK – Seven Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grants were recently awarded by the STAR (Support Tomahawk Area Resources) Foundation.

Six grants supported various projects at the School District of Tomahawk, while one went to St. Mary’s School. The grants totaled nearly $5,000.00.

The STAR Foundation acts as a community chest for businesses and individuals, making charitable grants to community groups, clubs and nonprofit organizations that contribute to the health and vitality of the Tomahawk area, according to the Foundation’s website.

“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 said meeting the educational needs of the community is an important part of its mission.

“Our goal with the (Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grant) program is not necessarily to fund equipment purchases or technological improvements, but rather innovative ideas for projects that will enhance the regular curriculum in Tomahawk area schools – public and private, grades pre-K through 12th grade,” the Foundation stated.

Local teachers are encouraged to apply for grants in amounts up to $1,000. Completed applications must be submitted by Monday, Sept. 30.

To learn more about the grant program, visit www.tomahawkstarfoundation.org/beyond-crayons-chromebooks.

Coding and Robotics

Abby Hrdina of St. Mary’s School was awarded grant funding for Coding and Robots.

Hrdina said she purchased ten Kids First Robotic kits for a total of $941.30.

“This kit was geared for children ages 4-8,” Hrdina stated. “But once I opened a box, I couldn’t imagine teaching 13 1st graders all at once, because there were a lot of pieces and a lot of steps.”

First, Hrdina explained, the students had to assemble several figures before they could begin to assemble and code the primary robot.

“I immediately decided to pair my class up with the 4/5 multi-age class, and I knew that I wanted to do it on the last day of school before spring break,” she said. “The students were paired up, and we worked in two conjoining classrooms. The 4/5 teacher assembled a kit of his own as a reference for the students, and I floated around, facilitating the students.”

With the remaining funds, Hrdina purchased two Code and Go mouse games.

“One was a simple board game and the other was like the more complex kits, but way simpler,” she explained. “The mouse robot was already assembled, and there were a lot less game pieces. Once we cleaned up the two classrooms, I let my first graders try out these other two games on their own.”

Hrdina noted how well the 4/5 students and first graders worked together.

“The older children read the assembly and coding instructions, while the littles helped gather the pieces,” Hrdina stated. “I was also impressed with my students’ takeaways. They did an awesome job explaining the various steps leading up to coding and the coding process itself.”

Hrdina said the biggest challenges were helping the students organize their materials due to the number of pieces, with some of them being extremely small, as well as making sure the kits were put back together in an orderly manner.

The benefits of the program to the community include cooperative skills, following directions, problem solving and knowledge of robotics and coding, Hrdina added.

“I ended up dispersing the kits between my room, the 4/5 grade and grade 2/3,” Hrdina said. “I also kept the simple kit and the game board for my first graders. What is great about the main kit is that there are many lessons the students can do, and that is our plan.”

Exercise Your Brain

A project called “Exercise Your Brain,” led by School District of Tomahawk educator Linda VanStrydonk and Occupational Therapist Wendy DeNamur, was supported by a $935.00 Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grant.

VanStrydonk explained that in the Exercise Your Brain activity, bags and balls are passed from hand-to-hand or person-to-person, crossing the body mid-line.

“The rhythm and movement pulls the brain and the body into a state where they can work together,” VanStrydonk said. “If this ‘exercise’ is practiced often, it can improve cognitive integration, behaviors settle, impulsivity decreases, attention increases and reading and writing improves. Our occupational therapist taught the 1st graders and their teacher the skill for the week, and the teachers practiced throughout the week. The 3rd graders were taught a skill from me, but the teachers did not want to practice on their own; rather, they wanted the students to work with me. This only allowed students to practice two days a week.”

VanStrydonk said students liked the activity, which helped them learn to calm their bodies, both physically and mentally. Some teachers said that this was the part of the day when all students were calm and quiet, she noted.

Other teachers commented that hand-eye coordination, penmanship, concentration and teamwork improved, and the students were able to have a meaningful brain break.

“The only downside that I saw was the time factor,” VanStrydonk said. “Third graders worked with me right away in the morning. Their teachers were not comfortable doing the activity on their own, and it seemed more special if they worked with me. Although, if I was busy, the students would miss out on practice.”

VanStrydonk noted that during a Family Night at the school, the students presented their skills, and all who came wanted to learn about “exercising their brain.” The audience got to practice with the students, and five lucky families won materials to take home.

“The first and third grade teams found benefit from exercising their brains this year,” VanStrydonk stated. “Other grade levels that saw the practice mentioned that they would like to know more about it and try it with their students. The school district is going to pay for three of us to be fully trained in this program. Training is this summer, and we are so excited to be able to do this and bring it back to our district. Hopefully, we will be able to take time during our in-service at the beginning of the year to train other teachers.”

In the Exercise Your Brain activity, bags and balls are passed from hand-to-hand or person-to-person, crossing the body mid-line. Contributed photos.

Fall Literacy Find

Suzie Coleman with the School District of Tomahawk was awarded a roughly $270.00 grant for a Fall Literacy Find.

Coleman said she used the general base of the budget to order books for the project. A total of $30.00 was used for the stars, which were items to be found.

“Clues were given daily as to where some stars were hidden around the school or community,” she explained. “Students who found stars could bring them in for a new book, for them to keep. Students were limited to finding two stars each.”

Coleman said student literacy was the main benefit of the project.

“I hope to continue with grant funding,” she stated. “I have looked into Thrivent help for funding as well. I would love to have this be a school-wide event.”

Expanding Literacy Comprehension and Retell

An Expanding Literacy Comprehension and Retell project, spearheaded by School District of Tomahawk educators Cody Lewison, Kate Totch and Kathryn Loka, was backed by Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grant funding.

The three Tomahawk educators explained that the project aimed to utilize flannel board sets as a visual aid in order to focus on students’ ability to understand the events of a story and retell stories accurately.

“The ability to formulate a narrative is dependent upon the students’ ability to understand the sequential order of events, as well as understand the story components, including characters, setting and emotions,” they said. “The ability to formulate accurate narratives is imperative for story comprehension, writing tasks and reporting of personal experiences.”

Additionally, flannel board sets increase student engagement in read-alouds, as well as aid in vocabulary development and direction-following abilities.

Lewison, Totch and Loka said the students “demonstrated great success with utilizing the flannel board components to follow along with the story during the read-aloud and then utilize the manipulatives to retell the story, with varying degrees of prompting from the teachers.”

“The flannel board pieces created a focus for vocabulary instruction, as well direction-following,” they stated.

The educators noted that challenges faced included maintaining students’ attention, which is imperative to the retell tasks, as well as varying degrees of engagement based on the age of the students.

“This project helped increase vocabulary, comprehension and retell for multiple students,” they stated. “Narrative formulation is a benefit to the students for academic purposes, as well as for safety purposes, so they can be reliable reporters.”

This project will continue within the elementary school, according to Lewison, Totch and Loka. No additional funding is necessary, as all components were purchased with the initial grant.

An Expanding Literacy Comprehension and Retell project was backed by Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grant funding.
The Expanding Literacy Comprehension and Retell project aimed to utilize flannel board sets as a visual aid in order to focus on students’ ability to understand the events of a story and retell stories accurately.

Science Together Every Month (STEM)

Ten School District of Tomahawk educators received $830.00 in grant funding for a Science Together Every Month (STEM) project.

The project was led by Kristina Walters, Aubrey Boisvert, Amy Meurer, Amanda Timm, Abby Krakow, Katie Hilgendorf, Tamie Hall, Suzie Coleman, Toni Tourdot and Mak Kathamegos.

The educators explained that each month, 7th grade and 1st grade students met to do a STEM challenge/activity.

“The project went well, and it was fun to see students in a different light, rather than just learning in a classroom,” the educators stated. “Many students that struggle in the classroom were really able to shine in this setting.”

The educators said one benefit to the community is that when the students see each other outside of school, they can be excited and remember and share their memories with others. There was even a connection made – a 7th grader is going to babysit a 1st grader.

“We hope to continue this program in the future,” the educators stated.

As part of a STEM (Science Together Every Month) project, 7th grade and 1st grade students met to do a STEM challenge/activity.

Culinary Enrichments

With help from a Beyond Crayons and Chromebooks grant, Tomahawk High School students had the opportunity to use their resource period at the end of the day to take part in Culinary Enrichment activities.

Instructor Allison Ewart explained that students have opportunities to use the 26-minute period for intervention or enrichment.

“Enrichment activities are projects and/or extension activities to not do work that is repetitive and new to most students,” Ewart explained. “Enrichment projects and extension activities allow students to have their own educational experiences.”

The goal for the enrichment activities is to “give students the opportunity to expand their prior knowledge or learn new skills they have not learned at home or school,” Ewart said, noting that not all students are able to take a culinary class, so the activity allows them to get into the kitchens and learn new recipes.

Students enjoyed a break at the end of the day and making a snack to eat at the time or take home for later, Ewart added.

“It is great to support local businesses buying the cooking products,” she said, noting that this could help students become interested in a culinary or hospitality field.

Ewart said she hopes to receive a grant next year to continue offering cooking enrichments during resource hour.

Tomahawk High School students had the opportunity to use their resource period at the end of the day to take part in Culinary Enrichment activities.

FCCLA NICU Baskets

Ewart also received grant funding to make baskets for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Aspirus Wausau Hospital Birthing Center.

Ewart explained the she and Family, Career and Consumer Leaders of America (FCCLA) students made homemade activity bags for the siblings and parents of patients.

“The bags included an inspiring logo, to Spread Love,” Ewart stated.

Each bag included notebooks, coloring pages, crayons and homemade mason jar desserts, such as cookies in a jar and brownies in a jar, as well as healthy snacks, hair brushes and hair ties, toothbrushes, toothpaste and more.

“Anything the parents and siblings could use during this difficult time could go into the bags,” Ewart said. “Students in Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) classes assisted in making all these items and putting the bags together for the siblings and parents of NICU babies.”

FCCLA student Morgan Kretzschmar, during three high school FCS classes, shared how it was making an impact, and in January, Tomahawk’s FCCLA chapter went to the Aspirus Wausau Hospital Birthing Center to donate the bags.

“We also decorated windows to create a positive atmosphere for the children and families,” Ewart noted.

Ewart said a success of the project would be that those involved were able to “better the time that families spend in the NICU and share that impact with classmates, inspiring them to become more caring and compassionate individuals.”

“The only problem we faced with this project was money limitations,” Ewart stated. “We wanted to make such a great impact, but what we wanted to do was out of budget, so we had to problem-solve and come up with a way to make my project impact as many people as we could on a smaller scale.”

A few community benefits of the project included inspiring high school students to be more caring and more passionate about causes they care about; providing resources to families in the NICU, showing them they are never alone; and gaining more experience for the FCCLA chapter and how it can make large impacts, Ewart noted.

“I would love to continue this project on a larger scale, but there is only so much we can do,” she said. “When receiving this funding, it goes to such a great cause, I feel we need to keep it going.”

Ewart said she will seek grant funding for the project next year, while also accepting donations.

“This project hits close to home for many, and making these impacts helps students see all the good they can really do,” she stated.

Grant funding went towards making baskets for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Aspirus Wausau Hospital Birthing Center.
In January, Tomahawk’s FCCLA chapter went to the Aspirus Wausau Hospital Birthing Center to donate the bags. They also decorated windows to create a positive atmosphere for children and families.
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