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Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Andrea Krueger applied for a grant that will provide the Osmo Wonder Kits for each kindergarten classroom. This device allows students to use technology while also incorporating hands-on activities to build critical thinking skills.
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Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Fran Woodruff and Alison Hill react as Tom Jeffries presents a grant from the Homewood City Schools Foundation that will provide an ActivPanel for the library and school counselor’s classroom at Edgewood Elementary.
With her Teacher Impact grant, Laura Mitchell put iPads in the hands of her Edgewood second-graders. Carnetta Kennedy created a new library for her Shades Cahaba third-grade classroom. Hall-Kent librarian Emily Strickland bought a sound system so every student could clearly hear her lessons.
After being honored by the Homewood City Schools Foundation with the Teacher Impact Awards, these educators and other recipients got right back to work, using their grants to provide new ways to educate Homewood kids. It’s that type of spirit the Foundation honors each spring with its Homewood Grown dinner.
On April 20, the HCSF will host its fourth annual Homewood Grown event to honor a new group of Teacher Impact Award winners and raise money to provide additional grants year-round. It’s typically a sellout event, with the 2016 dinner resulting in $90,000 between ticket sales, sponsorships and individual donations.
“It’s a celebration of living in the city of Homewood and our wonderful schools,” said HCSF President Emmie Smith. “It just makes me feel happy that I’m a Homewood resident. It’s a feel-good event every single time.”
The Foundation chooses five educators each year — one from each school — to be recognized as Teacher Impact Award recipients. These faculty and staff members are nominated by students, parents, teachers or administrators, and Smith said a panel of community members also helps choose the winners. All five winners are recognized at Homewood Grown and receive a $500 grant for their classroom.
“I was just really humbled, excited, honored,” Mitchell said of receiving her 2016 Teacher Impact Award.
Mitchell has taught at Edgewood for six years. The iPad Air devices she bought for her classroom include educational apps, research tools for her second-graders’ yearly biography project and other tools to use in reading, math, science, social studies, grammar and more. Mitchell said the devices also can help her provide individual assignments for students who want a new learning challenge or who need help re-learning a concept from class.
“There’s just so many ways you can incorporate technology,” Mitchell said.
Enslen Crowe, the incoming HCSF president, said honoring teachers like Mitchell, Kennedy, Strickland and others is one of her favorite parts of the dinner.
“I think I’ve cried [for] at least one teacher every year,” Crowe said.
Alongside the Teacher Impact Awards, the HCSF awards grants twice a year to teachers with ideas for original ways to teach their students. In spring 2016, the Foundation awarded about $36,000 to several grant proposals. These included a science literacy study unit, proposed by Edgewood fourth-grade teacher Emily Blackstock, Chromebooks and microphones for world language students at Homewood High, broadcast news and robotics programs at Hall-Kent and summer learning initiatives at Edgewood, Hall-Kent and Homewood Middle, among others.
The Foundation received about 20 applicants for its fall grants and 33 for its spring 2017 grant cycle, Smith said. The applications varied from $200 to $24,000. Smith said the grant committee looks for proposals that include different ways of teaching material, use of technology and otherwise demonstration of the teacher going above and beyond.
The spring winners were chosen in mid-March and include virtual reality at Hall-Kent, makerspace improvements at Shades Cahaba, interactive whiteboards across all elementary schools, summer reading programs and a trip to the AP Summer Institute for Homewood High’s AP European History teacher, among others.
The Foundation considers part of their role to be making up for any shortfalls in funding the school system receives in state or local taxes. Homewood Grown and the annual Grateful Dads event in the fall are the primary fundraising events for HCSF.
“It’s really necessary to have those private funds to supplement what comes from the state,” Smith said.
This year’s Homewood Grown, like last year, will have the theme “Roots and Wings.” Smith said the theme is meant to emphasize “from start to finish, for the rest of your life, what Homewood City Schools do for the students.” The speakers will include an introductory speech by Homewood High alumnus Tim Simpson, keynote address by fellow alumna and 2013-2014 Alabama Teacher of the Year Alison Grizzle and a closing speech by a student or recent graduate.
Grizzle is a Homewood resident and the director of organizational development for Starnes Publishing, which produces The Homewood Star. She attended Homewood City Schools from sixth grade through her graduation in 1993, and she said part of the reason she returned to Homewood was so her 2-year-old son, Luke, could experience the same education system in a “wonderful, diverse community.” Luke will enter Shades Cahaba Elementary in 2020.
“Homewood really works hard to make sure all students are successful regardless of their socioeconomic level,” Grizzle said. “I think Homewood has a really strong investment in education. They have one of the best per-people spending ratios in the state.”
Grizzle taught math in Birmingham City Schools for 15 years. After completing her term as Teacher of the Year, she worked with the Alabama State Department of Education in educator effectiveness prior to joining Starnes Publishing in 2017. Having visited and worked in schools around the state, Grizzle said Homewood teachers and administrators have set the school system apart in the way they “work hard to make sure all students have quality access.”
At Homewood Grown, Grizzle said she intends to discuss the importance of local-level funding for the future of Homewood’s schools and students.
“We as a community are going to have to make sure that we use local taxes to continue to support our schools. And if the state continues to cut budgets, and even to an extent where your teacher-people ratio would rise, we’re going to have to stay committed to small classrooms and invest in teachers,” Grizzle said.
This year’s Homewood Grown is at SoHo Plaza April 20 from 6-9 p.m. or inside Rosewood Hall in the event of rain. Smith said the evening will include a plated dinner by Savoie Catering and the presentation of the Teacher Impact Awards.
Tickets are $125, and there are also several sponsorship levels. For more information, go to homewoodcityschoolsfoundation.com.