The Rhode Island Foundation has awarded grants to elementary school teachers in Middletown and Portsmouth through a program designed to encourage classroom innovation.

Launched by philanthropists Letitia and John Carter in 2013, Spark Grants were available to full-time third-grade teachers in any public or charter school statewide were eligible to apply for grants of up to $1,000 to fund proposals that will engage students through unique experiences and creative learning methods in order to stimulate their interest in academics.

“Third grade is a critical stage in the educational development of children. “The creativity and impact of these proposals will put more youngsters on the road to a lifetime of academic success,” said Letitia Carter.

Spark Grants are for one-time expenses and cannot provide ongoing funding to sustain projects. Eligible expenses include software licenses, field trips, equipment and other resources that otherwise would not be available in the classroom.

“Once again, the Carters are advancing change by example. Thanks to their vision, teachers all over Rhode Island have an extraordinary opportunity to be innovative,” said Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Foundation.

In Middletown, Aquidneck Elementary School teachers Amy Dunn, Cathy Palkovic, Leslie Gilman, Kim Pearce and Jennifer Holubesko received $855 to take nearly 100 students to take a field trip to Third Beach in Middletown in order to participate in the Norman Bird Sanctuary’s wild life refuge outdoor classroom.

The Norman Bird Sanctuary will set up an outdoor classroom to enable kids to observe, predict, hypothesize and analyze sea organisms.  Students will be organized into groups of approximately 15 and circulate through three outdoor stations. At one station, students will collect crabs and periwinkles and then discuss their similarities and differences. At another station, they will collect “no longer living” and “non-living” objects to discuss their similarities and differences. At the third station, they will learn about all the traits of beach grass that make it one of the “smartest” plants at the beach.

“Students will gain a three dimensional, hands-on experience which will help achieve proficiency in that area of the New Generation Science Standards,” said Holubesko. “Back in the classroom, students will independently record their experience by diagramming sea organisms and creating comparison charts identifying traits. Then in small groups, they will compare data, analyze data, write conclusions and present findings to the class to create a whole class chart of the life organisms found at Third Beach.”

In Portsmouth, Melville Elementary School teachers Erika Magilton, Meg Brennan and Michele Polselli received $2,950 to take 75 third-graders on field trips to Escobar’s Highland Farm, the Portsmouth Historical Society and Fort Adams in Newport.

“The purpose is to learn about the history, places and faces of our town and Aquidneck Island. During this 8-week unit, students will research and visit places, events and historical figures in order to acquire knowledge of historical significance,” said Polselli.

“The students will be creating a visual representation of 10 famous landmarks on The Cliff Walk in Newport. We think the visual representation of some of Newport’s most famous landmarks along with the Aquidneck Island book will prepare our students for the field trip that will take them all over Aquidneck Island,” she said.

Students will create their own history books, which Polselli hopes will be displayed at the Portsmouth Free Public Library, the historical society and the school department’s central office.

“Our students’ knowledge of historical places, events and figures will provide them the opportunity to interact with community members and learn the importance of past community events thus aiding in their background knowledge of where they come from and how our communities on the island came to be,” said Polselli.

Elementary schools in Barrington, Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Johnston, Lincoln, Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, Pawtucket, Richmond, South Kingstown, Smithfield, Warren, Warwick, Westerly and Woonsocket also received grants. Statewide, the Foundation awarded $215,000 in grants.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island.  In 2015, the Foundation awarded $41.5 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit www.rifoundation.org.

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Ryan Belmore has been the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp since 2012. He also currently works for Mountain News, where he serves as Senior Editor - North America for OnTheSnow. He previously worked for the New England Patriots and American Cancer Society. He currently serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).