By Dedra Cordle
Rather than decorate her classroom with posters of animals, Tracey Graham likes to liven the place up with, well, live ones. Madagascar hissing cockroaches, fire-bellied toads and chicken eggs waiting to hatch are all currently on display in her classroom at Westgate Alternative Elementary School. Soon, her menagerie will see further expansion.
While brainstorming a research project a few months ago, her fifth grade students brought forth the topic of raising an animal. Graham gave them permission to proceed and the inquisitive students scoured the internet looking for the right animal. At first, it seemed like they could not find one they all could agree upon until they met and collectively fell in love with the tobacco hornworm.
“They saw it and thought it was the coolest thing ever,” said Graham.
The students were intrigued by the size of the tobacco hornworm – during its life cycle, the caterpillar can grow up to three inches – and charmed by its distinctive look. They knew immediately it was something they had to get their hands on.
Graham will place the order for the tobacco hornworms in March and when they arrive soon after, the students will be in charge of keeping them alive.
“They are being kid-entomologists and taking the reins on this project,” she said.
The students will build their habitats, provide proper bedding and monitor their life cycle through a scientific journal.
“They are all so excited for this project and cannot wait for them to arrive,” Graham said.
Initially, Graham thought she would have to pay for this project completely out-of-pocket, but, like her inquisitive students, she scoured the internet looking for grant opportunities. One came in the form of the Kiwanis Club of Hilltop.
Each year, Kiwanis Club of Hilltop raises money through member donations and business sponsors to help fund projects such as the one Graham is doing. The number of applicants for the grant program fluctuates year-to-year, but 2014 saw their largest number to date at 52.
Sandra Robert, the grant coordinator of the vocational guidance committee, said that while she was thrilled by the record number of applicants, she was saddened by the fact that they had to turn away half of the applicants as the $6,700 they raised could only stretch so far.
She said their goal is to raise $10,000 for next year’s grant program so they can give more assistant to teachers and elementary and middle schools in need.
In addition to Graham, four additional teachers at Westgate Alternative Elementary received grants to enhance reading at the third, fourth and fifth grade levels and enhance mathematic skills with the purchase of the Advanced Zometool creator.
Suz Byrum, the Positive Efforts for Adjustment and Knowledge assistant at Binns Elementary School, received a $330 grant to purchase gifts for children who excel at filling buckets.
Inspired by a series of popular children’s books by Carol McCloud, the school implemented a program this year called Bucket Fillers, which recognizes students who show respect and appreciation to others in the hallways and in the classroom. For example, when a teacher sees one of their students doing something positive, such as lending a helping hand to a struggling student or saying something kind to another, they write their name on a piece of paper and drop it in the bucket. Every two weeks, Byrum comes to each classroom to draw a name out of the bucket. Whoever is picked gets a prize and recognition on the Bucket Filler Hall of Fame wall.
Byrum said this is done to promote positive interactions between the students.
“It helps them learn respect and show appreciation for others,” she said.
At the end of the year, the top Bucket Filler will get the grand prize, which had yet to be determined.
“It could be a bicycle or it could be an iPod; we’re really not sure yet,” said Byrum.
She said the staff would keep their ears open for what the students – or the top Bucket Filler – would like.
Other schools that received grants were John Burroughs Elementary, Eakin Elementary, Georgian Heights Elementary, and Highland Elementary. Grants were also given to Imagine Great Western Academy, Imagine at Sullivant, St. Mary Magdalene, West Broad Elementary and West Mound Elementary.