2022 Equitable Innovation Grant ProgramImpact Data
In February of 2020, the students at Wright Middle School had been rehearsing for their musical production of the Little Mermaid when stay-at-home orders went into place and virtual learning began. The students continued to rehearse over Zoom, practicing their instruments and producing plays virtually. “Our arts program is the heart of our community,” says music teacher Eleni Maureas. When students were finally able to return to campus this past year, Ms. Maureas wanted to make up for lost time.
Each year, the Los Angeles County Office of Education honors some of our most talented educators through the Teachers of the Year (TOY) awards program. The Greater LA Education Foundation (GLA) launched the TOY Equitable Innovation Grant program to invest in more dynamic teacher leaders, develop new strategies to help students, and share best practices with other educators. The Equitable Innovation Grant program supports projects, programs, and services that create dynamic learning environments.
This year, GLA sponsored 41 educator projects from 22 different districts. Project categories varied to meet the diverse needs of students and educators and included addressing learning loss due to COVID (9), integrating arts into curriculum (8), implementing new content and curricula (6), building community amongst students, families and educators (15), student wellness (23) and educator wellness (3). The projects impacted students at every grade level, from TK-5th grade (18), 6th-8th grade (6) and 9th-12th grades (15). In total, the projects reached over 21,000 LA County students. 77.83% of the students impacted by these projects qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Ms. Maureas used her Equitable Innovation grant to produce the Little Mermaid musical that had been cut short in 2020.
We were able to share our Little Mermaid production with 800 elementary music students because the local district gifted school buses to the program. For most in attendance, it was their first field trip in three years. One student, who has struggled socially all year, was amazed at the school audience response. He played the part of Sebastian, and the elementary kids wanted his autograph! These performances restored faith back into our school community…in addition, our district officials could see in person the importance of the arts at Wright.
Ms. Maureas students performing The Little Mermaid. She combined orchestra, band, jazz band and theater students, and implemented project-based learning by incorporating culturally relevant curriculum around the history and story of The Little Mermaid and environmental science.
Other grantees used new tools to support student learning. Denise Sudik, a 4th grade teacher at Newhall Elementary, wanted to help her students, many of whom are English Learners, find new ways to demonstrate their reading content knowledge. Using her grant, she purchased a program to help her students create comic strips based on reading material.
My students were very excited to give visual representation to their creative thoughts. They explored the program with great care. The students also became videographers and recorded sessions interviewing each other about their books and their recommendations for books to read. My most reluctant reader asked if he could do a second book…I expected students to enjoy both projects. What I didn’t anticipate was how well my very shy and reluctant readers and writers responded.
Some of the comic strips created by Ms. Sudik’s class. “The students experienced a book report in a new and unique way. They all approached this project prepared and excited. I was surprised at the “artistry” that was expressed! The pride expressed in their work was priceless!” said Ms. Sudik.
Patricia Allaf’s intervention students at La Fetra Elementary School led a “Compassion in Action” water conservation project for the entire student body during Earth Week. With her Equitable Innovation grant, Ms. Allaf was able to purchase the necessary resources for the project.
The project integrated the sciences, reading and writing, speaking, and mathematics. It provided hands-on opportunities, leadership opportunities, and taught the students to become responsible, respectful, caring members of their communities. There were 35 Intervention students involved in grades 2nd through 4th, and when we held the Earth Day event 400 students in grades 1st through 5th attended and participated…One of the highlights was seeing the excitement on the faces of the intervention students, seeing themselves as leaders for a schoolwide event. This was very rewarding, especially being able to speak in front of others, communicate with both adults and fellow schoolmates.
Ms. Allaf’s intervention students leading the “Compassion in Action” water project for the rest of the students at La Fetra Elementary. “Working together as a team helped build respect, self-esteem, confidence, problem-solving and social skills. Furthermore, it created environments that not only promoted children’s academic growth, but also their cognitive, social and emotional, physical, mental and identity development,” says Ms. Allaf.
Jacob Theis, the Dean of Students at Magnolia Science Academy 6, noticed that the school’s teachers and staff had worked tirelessly for the students over the past two years, but focused very little on their own wellness. This year grants were available to support educator wellness, in addition to student projects.
During the second half of the year, after weathering the storm of a return to in-person education amidst COVID restrictions, our teachers and staff were very stressed. Using this grant, we were able to bring a massage therapist on site on four occasions to help staff relax…It is no secret that teachers have an extremely difficult job…We speak a great deal about the needs of students at this time. The pandemic has been very disruptive and stressful for children of all ages. It is the overwhelming rhetoric in education. In some ways, rightfully so! However, any caretaker, parent, guardian, or teacher will tell you that while they attempt to fill the tanks of those they care for, their own tank is rarely considered. They are expected to rally, to dig to a new level of motivation, to be calm, to be kind, to be respectable always. The wild part is, they usually do. Somehow. In that light, we decided to use this grant to fill our teachers’ tanks, even a little. We don’t always need huge projects and massive displays. Sometimes a simple act goes a long way, and this time, it did.
Since launching the Teacher of the Year Equitable Innovation Grants, GLA has invested more than $130,000 in 71 projects that have reached 33,000 students across LA County. We believe that a great teacher, with the right resources and opportunity, is the most effective agent for student success. Our educators have implemented exciting and innovative programs that have transformed teaching and learning for LA County’s students. We are proud to work with partners from across Los Angeles County to invest in teachers and look forward to the incredible projects that we will see in the future!
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