Educators Engage And Enrich Traditional Teaching With Student-driven Experiences That Emphasize Critical Thinking, Increase Cultural Relevance And Reduce Racism

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Over $148K in funding provided by McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation for outstanding enrichment efforts

Marian Girls hard at work at the Clavius Project Robotics Jamboree, a prior project funded the MDEF

Marian Middle School girls hard at work at the Clavius Project Robotics Jamboree, a prior project funded the MDEF

....not only will these projects support the enrichment of students, but they will influence teaching communities, broadening the impact.

What are educators doing to keep students engaged in 2020? While approaches vary, more and more educators are using active learning and culturally relevant approaches to create experiences where students take the lead. From taking on roles of researcher, broadcaster, or performer, students are making important connections to real world skills. Educators are focusing on the connections between active learning and real world skills through a variety of enrichment projects funded by the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation (MDEF) for this school year.

Whether it’s using chess to improve critical thinking, or putting their community at the center of the curriculum, educators supported by MDEF are invested in projects that give students opportunities to learn by doing and highlight meaningful ways for teachers to reduce racism and increase cultural relevance.

“These projects reflect the thoughtful approaches of educators inspired by the promise of the future. Not only will these projects enrich individual students’ learning, but they will influence teaching communities, broadening the impact to transform learning itself!” said Sarah J. McCarthey, President of the Foundation which awarded over $184,000 in grants and scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year.

While the projects take a variety of forms, a focus on keeping students actively engaged in learning is evident.

The project ASO Sympatico at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, VA will provide free before and after school music education and empower young musicians to participate in over 30 performances throughout their community. Martin Luther King Towers Chess Club
In Bronx, NY will offer free after school programs to Harlem and East Harlem communities where students can learn chess to celebrate intelligence and encourage students to develop analytic skills. Project founders use chess to foster a culture of positive peer pressure that motivates participants to embrace the long-term benefits of perseverance, critical thinking and self-esteem; their work builds on studies that show that exposure to chess has many positive outcomes for youth, especially in the areas of academic performance and self-esteem.

Educators from Bethel School District in Tacoma, WA are approaching the needs of students today by developing a “Flex Program” offering hybrid courses: classes which meet face-to-face on some days, with choices for work spaces such as library, classrooms or home. Teachers participating in the program will explore best practices in blended learning and incorporating 1:1 technology in the classroom.

Making a real-world connection to citizenship, the The Best of Buena Vista, is a project designed to involve Parry McCluer High School students in the production of a community broadcast featuring the positive impacts of businesses, industries, government, performing arts and athletics in a small Virginia town. Classrooms in Oklahoma will have the opportunity to bring curriculum trunks exploring the state history of migration, Latinx culture, and more through a funded project at Oklahoma History Center. Trunk contents and curriculum will be developed with the assistance of community members closely connected to the trunk theme to ensure cultural sensitivity and authenticity. Each curriculum guide will contain extensive background information for teachers to develop lesson plans surrounding the trunk contents while also offering cross-curricular activities that allow for the use of the trunk in a variety of subjects and instructional environments. The supplemental materials will provide for student-directed inquiry into trunk related topics and cover a range of presentation formats and complexity. Supported by the funding, the artifacts will allow students to actively engage with relevant objects within the classrooms.

Funded projects at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida and John Barrett Middle School in Fair Oaks, CA, highlight initiatives focused around improving students’ capacity to serve as scientific researchers in their own communities; they will apply their area of inquiry and technology skills to the environmental sciences.

Several of the projects are focused on teacher development for reducing racism. The Racial Justice Summit project at Falks Elementary School in Madison, WI will include professional development for understanding systems of racism and oppression, exploring implicit biases, and envisioning co-liberation in schools. A cohort of teachers attending the summit from this school will design a professional learning program for their teaching community designed to deepen their understanding of racial disparities in community and schools and explore practices that can support their own development as anti-racist teachers.

At TechBoston Academy in Boston, MA, a mixed-race, mixed-gender group of faculty will leverage previous experience with anti-racist training and facilitation to design a more explicitly anti-racist curriculum. . This team of teachers will initiate their own personal anti-racist growth while collaboratively reimagining what professional development can look like at their school. They plan to facilitate large scale, anti-racist change through this process.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the Foundation has funded five new Academic Enrichment Grants at schools serving minority and economically disadvantaged students; four Teacher Development grants with similar demographics; and four student teacher scholarships.
Recipients are listed below.

Academic Enrichment Recipients:
Lori Sindel-Wawro, Sierra Nevada Sub-Alpine Wetland Student Designed Research Project – Fair Oaks, CA
George Donaldson, Martin Luther King Towers Chess Club – Bronx, NY
Carrie Fox, Education Trunks – Oklahoma City, OK
Rishi Richardson, The Best of Buena Vista – Buena Vista, VA
Melinda Kernc, ASO Sympatico – Alexandria, VA

Teacher Development Recipients:
Emily Portle, Racial Justice Summit – Madison, WI
Joann Cantlupe, Environmental Science Pathway – Plantation, FL
Benjamin Brown, Flex Program Teacher Development – Bethel School District – Tacoma, WA
Casey Andrews, Creating a Critical Professional Development Space at TechBoston Academy for Anti-Racist Transformation – Boston, MA

Scholarship Recipients:
Stephanie Plagens, Stephen F. Austin State University
Daniel Lopez-Adame, University of California, Santa Cruz
Brenda De Jesus Acosta, University of California, Santa Cruz
Beatriz Valdez, University of Texas, Austin

The mission of McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation ( is to serve as a catalyst in maximizing the skills and creativity of educators at the K-12 levels and in cultivating pioneering approaches to teaching that result in dynamic student learning. The Foundation sponsors proposals that enhance student learning and educational quality, paying particular attention to those that best serve under-funded schools. The application deadline is April 15 of each year for proposals with significant potential to enrich the educational experiences for youth.

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Gail Gudell, Controller
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