NEW Teacher Opportunity Fund Supports Unexpected Needs
By Sarah Elizabeth Murphy
Falmouth Education Foundation has broadened its reach over the past two years with the Teacher Opportunity Fund, which was introduced at the 2015 Gala as a reverse auction. “We hoped that attendees would be inspired to contribute to a new fund designed to support immediate or unanticipated learning opportunities,” stated FEF Board President Ellen Barol.
Unlike traditional FEF grants, which require planning ahead for a project in the next school year, TOF grants are smaller (ranging from $25-$300), require a shorter application, are available all through the current school year, and have a quick turnaround, usually about two weeks.
FEF raised $12,000 in the first year, followed by $17,000 in 2016. To date, 59 mini-grants have been awarded, with requests ranging from field trips to conferences, books to musical instruments.
“The response to the new fund was fantastic, and is further evidence of how deeply our town cares about its schools,” Barol said. “Teachers are appreciative, students are benefiting, and we are thrilled to be able to offer support for excellence through an additional grant process.”
Kristin Bergeron, Library/Technology Integration Specialist at North Falmouth Elementary School, was awarded a TOF grant to attend a four-week online Makerspace Workshop last March, staged by School Library Journal. “If you can imagine it, you can create it,” is the motto of the Makerspace - a station which houses a variety of materials, resources, and opportunities, from arts and crafts to robotics, to extend learning and to cultivate higher-order thinking skills.
Bergeron believes one reason it is beneficial is that it enables the individual to initiate learning.
“A Makerspace should be led by the student’s interests and provide him or her with the opportunity to create, problem-solve, and develop inquiry-based thinking,” she said.
Through the online course, Bergeron received access to guest speakers, and also worked with facilitators experienced in the Maker movement to complete assignments and field research in preparation for creating her own. Bergeron was also awarded a traditional FEF grant to implement a Makerspace at North Falmouth for the 2016-2017 school year, which will allow students to explore math, art, science, technology, and engineering in the social environment of the library.
“Overall, the workshop better helped me to grasp the Makerspace concept and helped me to map out my vision for my school library,” she said. “I learned there is no ‘one size fits all’ and it goes well beyond purchasing materials.”
Bergeron is grateful for the opportunities made available by FEF.
“Knowing FEF is there has motivated me to step outside my comfort zone and bring new and exciting projects to my students,” she said.
While attending the NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) Model Schools Conference last fall, Falmouth High School Principal Mary Gans was struck by a presentation from ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
“A few years ago, they realized they needed to adjust their schedule to allow some time during the school day where students could go and get help from teachers,” Gans said.
Due to the rigorous nature of students’ schedules, which for many include athletics and activities, staying after school for academic support is not always an option. As a solution, ConVal implemented a period known as TASC (Teachers in Academic Support Centers), in which every teacher participates by offering targeted intervention for all students.
“For example, a Geometry teacher who feels some students aren’t quite grasping a certain concept can invite them to a TASC period devoted to that particular material,” Gans said. “Another example would be an AP Biology teacher who wants to be sure his or her students are fully prepared for an upcoming test. This is geared for students of all levels, because every student struggles with something,” she said.
Gans won a TOF grant, which funded a presentation by the ConVal principal and technology director, who visited Falmouth High School last January to explain the concept to the faculty and share options for integrating it as a pilot program. Gans then asked volunteers from her faculty, including some who were skeptical about the idea, to visit ConVal to learn more and share the information with their colleagues.
“Everyone had positive things to say about it,” Gans said. “Even the skeptics felt their questions had been answered and it was certainly worth piloting.” She added that they also witnessed a great deal of peer collaboration rather than teacher-led instruction.
The vote was brought to the full faculty with 68 in favor, 5 undecided, and 3 opposed.
The TASC period will be implemented at Falmouth High School for the second quarter of the upcoming school year. The goal is to have each session limited to approximately 10-12 students, with each teacher having the ability to schedule students appropriately. Gans said the program has seen great success.
“Lexington High was interested in ConVal’s program, but they didn’t know if they could do it with their population, which is about 1200. (The incoming student body at FHS is about 875.) A middle school in Lexington piloted the program this past year, and the parents and kids love it,” she said. “Although FHS now offers two afternoons where kids can get help, many of them can’t stay, so having this option during the day will be a huge benefit.”
According to Gans, the TOF grant was essential to the implementation of the pilot.
“Our budget is extremely tight as it is, so I am grateful to FEF for making it possible for educators to access these funds,” she said.