The nonprofit North East Educational Foundation recently surprised teachers and staffers at seven area North East ISD schools with $103,025 in grants to help support those employees’ classroom initiatives.

What happened

In early September, NEEF representatives presented a $37,866.60 check to Encino Park Elementary School teachers Liz Cheslock and Cameron Schmidt, who said they plan to use the funds to buy Lü Interactive Playground for the campus.

According to representatives for Lü, a Quebec, Canada-based software company, the virtual playground turns any space into an active, immersive educational environment where children are engaged physically, intellectually and socially-emotionally.

Company representatives said the interactive playground comes provided with a large wall projection and a light and audio system so that children are immersed in interactive games.

Two other Encino Park Elementary teachers, Melissa Merlo and Kelly McManus, received $6,940 to create an outdoor learning environment to allow students to explore and connect with nature, build relationships with others, and enrich the children’s development. The educational foundation presented Wilderness Oak Elementary School counselor Janice Lanford with $2,464, which will be used to acquire materials to create beds for a sustainable garden. NEISD officials said students will research fruits, vegetables and herbs that will grow in the local climate and decide what to plant.

Oak Meadow Elementary School teacher Amy Fontenot was awarded a $5,830 grant for her project, Maverick Collab Corral, a dedicated space where students have equipment needed to record a podcast, share poetry or writing with classmates and the public, take virtual reality field trips with VR headsets, collaborate on a project, act out a story or play they recently read or wrote, or create a song. Foundation representatives said the new space and equipment will also benefit Oak Meadow teachers with support for innovative instructional strategies designed to optimize student learning.

Churchill High School teachers Megan Tadej-Wood and Naomi Miller were awarded a $6,072.98 check for their Robots in English project. According to NEISD officials, Miller and Tadej-Wood hope to purchase various types of robots to further engage English tutoring students and help them to overcome mental hurdles, increase recall on exams, and boost learning and confidence.

Dig deeper

Canyon Ridge Elementary School counselor Coral Bacon received a $1,934.99 grant for her "Building Better Behaviors: An Interactive Approach" project. NEISD officials said the funds will help Bacon to create a calming classroom with mood lighting, various seating options, kinetic sand and other sensory manipulatives. Students will also get to work on science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, science projects.

Coker Elementary School Gifted and Talented teacher Margaret McDaniel and librarian LeeAnne Arnold received $5,955.91 to create a Literary STEAM Lab, a repurposed campus computer lab that will feature STEM-focused literature, kits and technologies.

Harmony Hills Elementary Schools instructional science coach Jessica Buchanan received a $32,624.36 grant to create a Space, Technology, and Earth Explorations Lab, or STEEL, project. Foundation representatives said STEEL will provide students with hands-on, interactive, technology-enhanced projected reality stations, VR and augmented reality experiences, and coding and STEM challenges. Such features will teach students to solve space-, environmental- and conservation-themed STEAM challenges using hands-on materials and models.

Three other Harmony Hills Elementary teachers, Melissa Medrano, Jasmine Williams and Alicia Wortham, received $3,336.77 to launch what they called “Hawk Talk,” a podcasting system that will allow second through fifth graders to enhance their academic and social-emotional learning opportunities by communicating and collaborating with classmates, community members, school staff and campus guest speakers.