A Helping Hand

Ms. Watts at Midvale Elementary.Teachers Receiving Grants, Donations is a Win-Win in the Classroom

Teaching is one of the toughest professions around. Sure, there are perks. Having summers off is a nice reprieve. Being able to watch the growth and development of a young mind is a treat. But teachers don’t get enough pay, in some corners they don’t get enough respect, and they get to work all day with children, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Fortunately, there are groups that understand all this and make it part of their mission to support teachers in the classroom. One such area of support is financial. Teachers often get a small annual stipend from their PTA or PTO to decorate their classrooms. Oftentimes, that stipend doesn’t go far enough. Why does it matter? Think of walking into your kindergarten classroom and not seeing bright, vibrant colors and the letters of the alphabet on the walls. It’s a lot more than feng shui; these decorations help students to learn and develop. If a teacher can’t afford to adequately decorate their classroom, there is a definite and deleterious impact.

That’s where these outside groups like the Meemic Foundation come into play. Haven’t heard of them? Neither had Kalisha Watts. The fourth-grade teacher at Tucker’s Smoke Rise Elementary School found out about the classroom makeover grants that Meemic was offering and decided to give it a shot.

Ms. Watts classroom features colorful chairs.“When I applied it was just on a whim,” Watts recalls. “I applied for it and I didn’t think anything of it. Then I got a phone call from the actual director of the foundation and it was like, ‘I called to congratulate you.’ I was like, ‘Well, for which grant? I applied for several.’ And she said the $10,000 grant and I was like, ‘No, you’re kidding.’”

But it was no joke. Watts won the prize, giving her the opportunity to redecorate her classroom with flexible learning furniture including mobile desks and tables, colorful chairs, beanbag chairs, sofas, rugs, and mobile easels. She says it gave her students the opportunity to learn in a more conducive and collaborative environment.

While the kids loved it, the teacher wasn’t done. Watts had a vision for getting her students reading in class, but couldn’t fit it into the parameters of the grant she had won, so she found another avenue to make it happen.

“I wanted to really create like a book nook in my room,” she recalls. “Some of the furniture I wasn’t able to get with the $10,000, so I did a DonorsChoose and I got a mobile book bin to complete my book nook for my class.”

Watts isn’t the only teacher receiving outside funding to enhance her classroom. At Midvale Elementary, second grade teacher Hope Hoge won a grant…and she didn’t have to do a thing to get it.

“I got an email from Georgia Credit Union and I immediately texted [Midvale Principal] Dr. [Tara] Dougherty and said ‘Is this a scam? What is this?’” Hoge remembers. “Apparently they advertised on social media for parents or co-workers to nominate teachers that they felt like deserved an award and I was nominated for DeKalb County.”

Mrs.Hoge.Just like that, Hoge, who is heading into her seventh year at Midvale, was awarded a $200 Amazon gift card, which she says she’s spending on new books and other tools to encourage her students to develop a love of reading. That $200 will go with donations she received from the DonorsChoose platform to complete the “reading corner” in her brand new classroom.

These grants and donations mean the students win and the teachers win, as many now have the resources to build a nurturing learning environment within their classrooms. That wouldn’t have made much of a difference a year ago, but with full-time virtual learning soon to be a thing of the past and all students heading back to school in the fall, teachers like Hoge are excited to get back to their craft.

“I’m really ready for August to roll around and not to be teaching from home with two children climbing all over me and just be able to do my job and do it well,” she says, adding, “I’m so excited for kids to have some normalcy in their lives.” 

Watts agrees, saying they’ve wrestled through the difficulties of a virtual classroom, and now they are excited for that return to normal. 

“Teaching virtually has been a challenge for both my students and I. We definitely tried to adapt to it and make the best of it, but I think us being back in the classroom socially, academically I think is going to be great for all of us.” 

With many of those teachers getting back into their natural environments, and with more tools at their disposal, student achievement will undoubtedly benefit, and that is a good thing for Tucker’s cluster schools.

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