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Teachers win grants to fund innovation
2014 Spring ReImagine Newton Classroom Grant winners; (Left to Right) Jami Berry, grant sub-committee chair, Cecily Bullock, Jessi Braswell, Randy Norman, Benjamin Green and Hillary Edgar, board chair.

Four teachers were presented with the Spring 2014 ReImagine Newton Classroom Grant by the Newton County Board of Education at its April work session on Tuesday evening. The grants, funded by the Newton Foundation for Educational Excellence, pay for a wide variety of innovative, instructional projects and materials.

The local, independent non-profit’s ReImagine Newton campaign aims to support public education within the county through private dollars and opened the application to any Newton County School System teacher. Twenty-nine teachers applied for the grant that was awarded to each school level across all disciplines.

Board chair Hillary Edgar said the applications reflected “the caliber of our innovative educators and their desire to go beyond the standard curriculum.”

“We were delighted to see grants that integrated technology, literacy and life skills funded during this cycle,” said Jami Berry, grant sub-committee chair. “The funded grants will also serve the local community through the creation of gardens that will provide food to needy families. (They) are a testament to both the creativity of the Newton County School System’s teachers and to their innovative spirit in working to enhance curricular delivery through real-world application.”

Benjamin Green, South Salem Elementary School third grade teacher, was chosen as a grant winner for his “Lights, Camera, READ!” program, which puts a new spin on book reports. Green said his students will read a variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and use video production software to create animated videos and reports in response to what they read.

"The highlight of the grant is using a green screen to record videos and replace the green background with drawings, pictures or videos with different settings," Green said. "It will support third-grade language arts standards while integrating technology."

Jessi Braswell, a seventh grade science teacher at Cousins Middle School, won funding for her “Gardening for Life” program.

Cecily Bullock, Alcovy High School agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor, was awarded a grant for her “From Our Farm to Your Plate” program. Bullock said this project will allow for the creation of a school garden on the high school campus, built by agriculture students and FFA members. Students will create a plan for the gardens that will result in food production year round, which will be donated to a local food bank for needy families.

“Students will also take what they have learned and host four classes on gardening and preserving food for people in the community who want to learn more or want to start their own garden. This grant will also allow for us to complete our chicken coop and provide fresh eggs as donations,” Bullock said.

Randy Norman, a seventh grade teacher at Newton County Theme School at Ficquett, will use his grant money to purchase nine Chromebooks to enhance his “Collaborating with Chromebooks!” program by bringing his class closer to a 1:1 technology-to-student ratio. Chromebooks, Google-based laptops that only run the Chrome browser, allows students to save work directly to a Google Drive or flash account.

Norman said his students use Chromebooks for real-time collaboration, as up to 50 students can work on and edit a document at the same time, watching revisions and additions as they happen.

“With the Springboard curriculum, it allows us to take the lessons from the workbooks to the Internet and collaborate, create and examine the content in a deeper way,” Norman said.

The seventh-grade class also uses Chromebooks to access Kidblog, an educational blogging portal that gives each student their own account and remains under the teacher’s control. Norman’s students are beginning to blog with seventh graders in Virginia and New York and with sixth graders in Ireland.

The Foundation awarded the teachers about $6,200 collectively.