Grants spark creativity, collaboration for local teachers, students

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This year, the students and teachers at several schools across the city will benefit from a Spark Grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, which was funded by philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter.

According to a statement from the Chris Barnett, the foundation’s senior communications and marketing officer, the Carter Spark Grant program offered third- and fourth-grade teachers across Rhode Island grants of up to $1,000 for activities that engage students through unique experiences and creative learning methods.

In Cranston, Barnett noted there were three schools that received Carter Spark Grants.

Edgewood Highland Elementary School art teacher Ellen Laprocina has received a grant to fund a collaborative project in which two murals will be created in partnership with art students from Cranston High School East over the course of several visits to a high school art classroom.

Glen Hills Elementary School educator Lisa Davis will use her grant to subscribe to “Time for Kids Magazine” and fund trips to the University of Rhode Island Botanical Gardens and the Cranston Enrichment Center. At the center, her third-grade students will discuss current events with members and form partnerships that foster better understanding and acceptance of intergenerational perspectives on such events.

“This will bring current events alive for my students at an academic level that they can understand and process. It will help them to be more interested and involved in the world around them, the role they play and how they can impact events in their world, state or community,” Davis said. “It has been amazing to watch the partnership between students and seniors in the past. It is important for my students to understand how that senior center adds value to our community and helps them learn empathy, care and respect for those who have helped build their community.”

At George J. Peters Elementary School, fourth-grade teacher Jamie McKenzie’s grant supported a school trip to the Boston Museum of Science.

“They will get to travel through different exhibits and see science in motion in ways that are not possible in my classroom,” McKenzie said. “By being able to participate in this engaging, learning experience, my students’ love of learning will be able to spark even more.”

During a visit to Cranston East for one of the art sessions, Barnett, Rhode Island Foundation grant programs officer Ricky Bogert and Ward 1 City Councilwoman Lammis Vargas got to see first-hand the tremendous benefits a Spark Grant can provide to the students and staff.

“This is such great collaboration,” Vargas said as she circulated around the room, watching the students working together to paint glaze on the clay flowers that had been created and then fired during previous sessions. She began to help a table of students as they painted some of the thousands of clay flowers needed for the mural.

Conversations could be heard taking place between the older and younger students.

“I loved seeing how the students dove right in with no hesitation,” Barnett said. “They were smiling broadly and they were committed to the project. There was a din of creativity and conversation in the room. There was a structured project taking place, but within that you could be as creative as you want to be.”

A mural of flowers will be housed at both Cranston East and Edgewood Highland, and the students will be able to see the mural project at either of the schools.

“It will be fun for the children from Edgewood who come to East for high school to be able to see their mural,” Laprocina said.

According to Barnett, Laprocina, Davis and McKenzie are among dozens of teachers statewide who received more than $134,000 in Carter Spark Grants from the Rhode Island Foundation. Schools in Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Cranston, Cumberland, East Providence, Foster, Lincoln, North Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, Scituate, Smithfield, Warren, Warwick and Woonsocket also received funding.

“Once again, the Carter family is promoting change through leadership. Thanks to their foresight, teachers all over Rhode Island have an exceptional opportunity to be innovative,” said Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the foundation. 

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