WATERLOO, Iowa --- Educators, students and community members gathered for breakfast Thursday to celebrate innovative teaching as the Waterloo Schools Foundation announced more than $41,500 in grants.
“Sparking Academic Excellence” was the theme for the second annual event at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center. Teachers at eight Waterloo Community Schools’ buildings were awarded innovation grants along with all elementary expanded learning program teachers and a district-wide summer camp. The 11 grant awards focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — and critical thinking.
Keynote speaker Dr. Travis Montgomery, a 1993 East High School graduate, told the audience that he experienced academic excellence while a student in the district. After earning degrees from Wartburg College and the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine, Montgomery now works as a foot and ankle surgeon in Indianapolis.
“Excellence is never an accident,” he said, noting it requires “high intention” and “sincere effort.” The high expectations he experienced from family and teachers were also important. “Friends in the community helped me stay focused” on education, Montgomery said, and made him a better person.
“I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a phenomenal family,” he added.
Montgomery’s mom, Charlene, a retired school counselor, and late father, James, helped keep him on track. His sister, Liz Crowley, “set the bar so high I knew I had to maintain high expectations.” Crowley became an educator and is now principal of Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence.
“I was a kid who loved getting A’s, loved math, loved science,” said Montgomery. “Sports was definitely the hallmark of our family.”
He recalled the hard work he and his peers poured into their participation with the Gates Park Youth Basketball League during the summers. Their determination and drive “carried over to high school basketball success,” said Montgomery. “That success on the basketball court allowed us to go from the court to the classroom.”
But Montgomery said he “never would have realized” while going through Waterloo’s schools that his education would lead to becoming a double board-certified surgeon.
Jean Seeland, vice president of the Waterloo Schools Foundation, said the efforts of the organization — which started three years ago — are aimed at that kind of success for current and future district students. “The purpose of these grants is to provide critical resources” that teachers and schools may not otherwise have, she said.
“The Waterloo Schools are providing limitless opportunities to prepare our students to be successful in a global economy,” Superintendent Gary Norris said in a brief “State of the District” address during the breakfast. With the help of the foundation, he believes it will “become clear” that Waterloo is “the district of choice in Northeast Iowa.”
Master of ceremonies Jim Waterbury noted how much help the foundation has already given the district. “In the past 18 months, the foundation has raised over $350,000 that have gone right back into the Waterloo Schools,” he said.
That includes more than $81,000 in innovative teaching grants awarded Thursday and a year ago. Among the other funds are donations last year of $120,000 from John Deere and $50,000 from an anonymous donor for math coaches and middle school STEM modules.
The foundation is currently seeking matching funds for two challenge grants of $60,000 from the R.J. McElroy Trust and $50,000 from an anonymous donor. The McElroy funds will go toward the middle school STEM modules. The anonymous donation will help remodel high school health career academies into learning labs that resemble hospital rooms and use simulators.
Innovative teaching grants announced at the Waterloo Schools Foundation breakfast Thursday include:
• $971 for West High science teachers “Sucking Air,” which will demonstrate gas laws using a vacuum pump, allowing students to work faster and take less class time.
• $635 for Central Middle teacher Clozelle Harris’ Reading Naturally Live, which assists struggling readers to build comprehension skills. Funds will allow for an upgrade to an online version of the program.
• $5,350 (jointly funded by the district) for Engineering is Elementary in expanded learning programs at all 11 elementary schools. The curriculum increases scientific thinking and introduces students to engineering.
• $5,000 for the weeklong Camp Invention summer program, covering the $205 registration fee for 25 low-income students. The camp’s curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
• $14,043 for “Facilitating Young Student Communication in the Math Classroom” at Cunningham elementary, using iPad Minis with the new math curriculum in kindergarten and first grade — 24 for students and six for teachers.
• $2,907 for Lou Henry Elementary teacher Linda Garrison’s “STEM in the GYM,” integrating kinesthetic learning with understanding how levers, wedges, pulleys, wheels, axles, screws, inclined planes and gears work.
• $1,605 for Highland Elementary teacher Stephanie Kane’s “How Plants Affect the World,” making first-grade science more hands-on, interactive and collaborative with the help of four iPad Minis and community experts.
• $1,000 for the Cougar Kids Club at Lowell Elementary, meeting four to six weeks after school twice a week for struggling students. Teacher selected-themes will emphasize critical thinking, writing and comprehension.
• $1,181 (jointly funded by the district) for Lou Henry teachers Amy McGovern and Lori Fisher’s “Lego We Do” introducing second- through fifth-graders to programming Lego robots.
• $7,773 for Kingsley Elementary teacher Andi Slack’s “Integration of Technology in Fifth Grade Writing,” using five flip camcorders and a number of Chromebooks to foster independent writing, creativity and collaboration.
• $1,067 for “Where Does It Begin?” using Elk Run Early Childhood Center preschoolers’ natural curiosity about motion, how things work and the world of science, laying a foundation for later STEM learning.