Washington County Public Schools Education Foundation distributes $5,923 in minigrants

Bester Elementary School's $1,000 award means the school can purchase four Lego robotics kits and software to help students learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics

April 30, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Lead teachers at Bester Elementary School Kris Pearl, far left, and Brian Ansel, far right, accept a $1,000 grant from the Washington County Public School Foundation presented by foundation president Glen Singer, center left, and Superintendent Clayton Wilcox Tuesday.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

Brian Ansel and Kris Pearl thought they were going to spend Tuesday morning observing and helping another teacher work with her students at Bester Elementary School, but the pair was surprised when a group of people walked into the classroom with balloons.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and officials from the Washington County Public Schools Education Foundation then presented Ansel and Pearl with a large ceremonial check for $1,000.

“I was amazed. I was astonished. I was overwhelmed. I was excited for the children at Bester,” Ansel said after the group had left.

This was the first time Ansel helped apply for a minigrant from the foundation.

The $1,000 minigrant means the pair can purchase four Lego robotics kits and software to help Bester students learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Ansel and Pearl said.

Tuesday was “prize patrol” day for the education foundation as foundation officials delivered nine awards to various schools, starting at Bester and ranging as far northeast as Cascade Elementary School and as far south as Pleasant Valley Elementary School, according to a school system news release.


Eight schools received checks for their projects — totaling $5,923, while a teacher at Boonsboro Middle School received 28 wired computer mice provided by the school system’s Technology Department, according to the news release and Teresa Thorn, the school system’s development coordinator.

The foundation has distributed more than $70,000 in minigrants in the program’s four years, said foundation President Glen Singer, who is chief financial officer for Weiss Bros. in Hagerstown.

The minigrants are funded largely through the school system’s employee giving campaign, Singer said.

For this round of minigrants, the foundation received 36 applications with requests totaling more than $31,000, the news release states.

Bester’s award was the largest monetary minigrant.

As lead teachers at Bester, Ansel and Pearl mentor new teachers and help classroom teachers develop lesson plans, Pearl said.

Ansel said he saw the Lego robotics in action last summer when he was teaching at Hagerstown Community College’s College for Kids. Pearl said her son has built Lego robots at home and programmed them to move around the kitchen floor.

Most of the children at Bester come from low-income families so they aren’t likely to have access to Lego robotics, school officials said.

“Kids love Legos,” Pearl said. “So being able to use the Legos and the computer — those two things together are just going to hook kids into thinking and learning, and trying to problem solve.”

Pearl said students might get to work with the Lego robotics this summer, but at the latest the program will be ready for the start of the new school year.

Ansel said students could use the Lego robotics in class.

But the pair said they also envision a before- or after-school program in which small groups of students can work with the robotics kits. The groups would turnover every few weeks to give more students a chance to work with the robotics.

Schools that received minigrants

Following is a list of schools that received mini-grants from the Washington County Public Schools Education Foundation, the award, the project and the names of the teachers who submitted the applications, along with information from the application.

Bester Elementary School

Award: $1,000

Project: “LEGO STEM Club”

Donald Brian Ansel & Kris Pearl: “LEGO Mindstorms Education NXT Base sets will be used to develop student-based STEM projects that integrate robotics and programming. The program expectations will provide opportunities that generate ideal hands-on tools for helping our kids learn a variety of topics including math and science, and computer and design technology. The program will support student learning with STEM-based projects that integrate instructional concepts of literacy, mathematics, science, and technology.”

Boonsboro Middle School

Award: 28 wired mice

Project: “Mice Would Be Nice”
(Provided by WCPS Technology Department)

Dawn Spitzer: “I’m fortunate to have a mobile lab which students use daily. It has become obvious that students are having trouble navigating the laptop. Students struggle with assignments that require a lot of cutting and pasting. Students struggling most don’t have home laptops. Recently, my students became frustrated with creating newsletters. I don’t want my students frustrated by technology because most will need it in the future. This got me thinking — how many in the professional world use a wired mouse? Almost all of the teachers in my building use wired mice. Students should have access to the same convenience. The mice are necessary to help students who struggle to navigate computers with the built- in mouse pad.”

Eastern Elementary School

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