Rita WilliamsFrederick L. Hipp is a great friend whom I have never met. Still, it’s easy to see that he loved kids and school as much as I do.

I love the happy, squeaky chatter of my students as they come off the bus each morning. I love that they know exactly which day they have art as a “special.” “I have you on Thursday!” they say, loudly, happily. I love their openness to everything that I say. Because I love kids I want to fill their heads with all of the great ideas I have for them. Ideas wake me in the middle of the night, and come to me during my drive to school. As you know, ideas come in many sizes—and so do their price tags. Innovation in the classroom can cost a lot of money.

I believe that Dr. Frederick L. Hipp was full of ideas, too. For more than 10 years he has been part of my classroom every day. He has motivated me to be an innovator. He has inspired me to be a writer. He has encouraged my creativity. He has recognized my talents as an educator when no one else except my students could. He has helped to buy paint, markers, canvas, easels, glitter, and paper for my art students. He has helped to buy books, CDs, DVDs, microscopes, magnifying glasses, and flipcams. He has helped to buy puppets, stuffed animals, and the materials to make them. He has helped bring wonderful performers to my school to entertain and teach about the world.

Dr. Hipp’s legacy of innovation lives on in the foundation that bears his name. The NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation funds the great ideas of New Jersey public school teachers who want to make their classroom dreams come true.

Who was Dr. Fred Hipp?

Dr. Frederick L. Hipp served as executive director of NJEA for 32 years. During that time, he constantly inspired educators to reach ever higher for new ways to spark the interest and the genius of our children. In 1993, those who knew and appreciated him created the Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education . For nearly 20 years the foundation helped teachers opportunities to teachers with great ideas to expand their visions of excellence through its grant awards program. The Hipp Foundation recognizes the magic of teaching and helps spread that magic throughout our classrooms for the benefit of our students.

I have been fortunate that the foundation has helped turn four of my ideas into reality for my students. And in the process, I have become a better teacher. Thank you, Dr. Hipp!

How it all started for me

In 1999, I returned to the workforce after a parenting break. I worked in two different school districts part time as an art educator. A wise principal, Mr. Phil Meara, told me to start writing grant proposals to make myself indispensable and to generate needed funding for my classroom.  I have now garnered over $100,000 in grants for my school district and I continuously search for ways to bring in money.

The idea for the project “Rainbow Connection” had been incubating in my teacher mind for many years. I often have my best thoughts late at night doing laundry or on my drive to school. I wanted families to be able to connect at night, at school, doing large art projects together. With art at the center I created projects that were cross-curricular and brought families together to create books, do science projects, combine art with math, and  learn about historic artists.

I was surprised that writing my first Hipp grant proposal was so easy. The application is very teacher-friendly, with objectives, a timeline, and a budget. (The application form is online at njea.org.) I never expected to win for my idea. But win I did, along with a continuation grant to fund a second year..

Hundreds of families have enjoyed family art nights together through the years, first with Hipp funds, then supported by our board of education for a few years and often with funding from our PTO. These evenings are now part of the culture of the two schools that I teach in and I am proud that I have been able to sustain the original grant idea in some way through the years.

Thank you, Dr. Hipp.

Welcome, CCU!

Blue SkiesAn exciting part of  winning a Hipp grant is having the “Classroom Closeup, NJ” crew come to your school, film your class, and highlight your project idea in a segment of the show. My best memory is of the first segment filmed in my artroom with Edie Fulton, then NJEA  vice president and fellow Ocean County teacher. It was amazing having her interview me with cameras and sound equipment in my face. I cannot begin to explain the thrill and terror I felt watching the segment on television when it was first aired.

Through the years I was lucky enough to win more Hipp grants.

I was quite proud of my “Global Visions and Voices” project, which I use today as part of my K-1 curriculum. The project fuses art and music and brings the cultures of Mexico, China, Japan, and Africa to my youngest students in a cross-curricular approach engaging my youngest learners to become global citizens. Collaborating with our music teacher taught me to scrutinize what I wanted my students to learn, and I became a better planner as this project has continued.

I then went on to create my “Young Leonardos” project, which was awarded grant funding for two years. This program is now integrated into my curriculum. “Young Leonardos” is a culmination of many years of cross-curricular teaching and reflects my conviction that in teaching art I can actually teach all subjects. My teaching is content-rich and full of constant challenges to my students to think and create. Leonardo da Vinci has become an inspiration in my lesson planning as I try to create experiences that are art-centered, but which draw their content from all disciplines.  

The Young Leanardos “Classroom Closeup” segment is my favorite one because it really captures my philosophy of encouraging my students to want to learn about everything, just like Leonardo da Vinci did.

Beyond the classroom

Dr. Hipp has changed my career outside of my classroom as well. I have enjoyed sharing my ideas with teachers by both presenting a workshop and participating in the Great Ideas Forum at the annual NJEA Convention in Atlantic City.  Because I want teachers to have the freedom to teach about everything, I am creating a book that encourages educators to teach across the curriculum. It is based on my “Young Leonardo” experiences.

During the course of Leonardo projects we chant: “I am a young Leonardo. I want to learn about everything!” Thanks to Dr. Hipp, teachers can teach about everything, too!

Thank you, again, Dr. Hipp for making my dreams a reality. When I see my students happy and learning and growing, I cannot describe what a wonderful feeling that is. That is why I teach!

A career reinvigorated

Some of my best moments as a teacher can be attributed to Hipp experiences. Watching little kindergarteners using microscopes and sketching their ideas in their Leonardo notebooks. Watching a whole cafeteria full of families creating their own books about animals after watching a live animal show. It’s all good!

I believe that the word about the Hipp Foundation has not made it into all of New Jersey’s schools. Every teacher in New Jersey has an awesome opportunity to create a proposal based on their ideas for their classroom and then receive a monetary award. Every teacher has great ideas--you just have to believe that someone else will recognize them. The Frederick L. Hipp Foundation is the vehicle `that can give you wings and make you feel like the rock star of teaching!

I am very proud of my current project called “Blue Skies.” The Foundation awarded me $5,000 for my service learning, art, technology, and character education project. All of my K-5 students (about 750) are creating beautiful watercolor paintings that show happiness. We are digitizing these works and sending the originals to hospitals, chemotherapy centers, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and military hospitals. Wherever people need to feel the power of children’s art to give them joy today and hope for tomorrow, that’s where we are sending our blue skies.

HIPPI thank you, Dr. Hipp for encouraging me, even though we never met. Thanks for saying “What a great idea, Mrs. Williams!”  Thank you for being a true friend to every NJEA member with a great idea to help kids. It has changed my life.

Rita Williams teaches art to grades K-5 at the Dr. Gerald H. Woehr Elementary School in Plumstead Township and at the New Egypt Primary School. She is a graduate of Lakewood High School, Georgian Court University and Goddard College in Vermont. You can reach her at WilliamsR@newegypt.us.