A Willingboro elementary teacher launched her classroom project with funding from NJEA’s Hipp Foundation

By Janene K. Onyango

Got a great idea for a project? Why not apply for a grant from NJEA’s HIPP Foundation? Applying for a grant can seem like a daunting process, especially if you’ve never had any experience with grant writing. Grant writing seemed foreign to me; in fact, I had never thought of applying for a grant to fund a project for my students at Twin Hills Elementary School in Willingboro. Thanks to Hipp funding, Willingboro students were able to visit Palmyra Cove Nature Park.

Over the past 10 years of teaching, I’ve had some great ideas for projects and activities, but funding the projects always presented a problem. In most cases, I did what many teachers do. I paid for supplies and materials myself, sought support from parents and fundraised for the rest. Because my resources were limited, the scope of the projects was limited as well.
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Then one day, I opened my mailbox and saw the latest copy of the NJEA Review. I read about the HIPP Foundation and soon the process was set into motion. The NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded in 1993, supports projects that enhance and improve the learning environment in New Jersey public schools. The foundation has awarded more than $1.8 million in support of 342 innovative educational projects.

I don’t think I could have accomplished my goal of bringing innovative science programming to my students without the financial and moral support of the HIPP Foundation. Writing the grant was pretty easy overall. The NJEA staff make the application process as streamlined as possible.

The hardest part was settling on which project to do! The idea for my current project finally came to me as a result of an extension activity that I arranged for my READ 180 students who were learning about wild pets. I invited an expert on wildlife from New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife to visit my classroom. I noticed how engaged my students were in learning about nature and the environment. I continued to foster that relationship with field biologist William Pitts. He encouraged me to contact Liz Jackson, coordinator for Project WILD.

What is Project WILD?

Project WILD is an interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education program. Its goal is to assist students of all ages in developing awareness, knowledge, skills and responsible behavior concerning wildlife and the environment. Project WILD was created by the Western Regional Environmental Education Council and it provides a curriculum and educational materials to educators. Project WILD is designed to support state and national academic standards. The activities are interdisciplinary in nature, that is, they are cross-curricular and meet learning requirements in social studies, math and language arts. The curriculum is organized by the guiding themes of ecological knowledge, social and political knowledge and sustaining fish and wildlife resources.

Once I chose Project WILD for my project, the rest of the grant writing process was self-explanatory. I submitted my application, but then came the waiting…waiting for word from the foundation on whether my project had been chosen. I was so excited when the letter came in the mailbox!

What did the grant pay for?

Thanks to HIPP Foundation funding (our grant was $4,780), I was able to provide Project WILD curriculum guides and training for 13 colleagues. Our trainer was Kathleen Verdi, a retired teacher. Providing a meaningful professional development experience for my colleagues was a great achievement. “The training was awesome,” remarked project member Amy Howell. “I learned so much.”

In addition, third-grade regular education students, as well as, fourth- and fifthgrade special education students, are now able to go on three fully paid field trips. Usually, parents have to pay for trips or the PTA and/or teachers need to fundraise for trips. As a result, students at my school don’t get to go on that many field trips. As educators, we know that field trips extend learning beyond the classroom. That’s huge!

In October, 68 students, 10 parents and 10 teachers went on our first field trip to Palmyra Cove, in Palmyra as part of our Project WILD program. “This was the best trip ever,” said Danielle Griffin, a parent of

Project WILD has been a bonus to everyone and a great way to build community. Teachers have raved about how much their students are enjoying the activities, and district-level administrators are happy that we are using an interdisciplinary approach to engage students in science while also meeting Next Generation Science Standards. It’s a win-win for everyone.

But do you want to know the best part about being a HIPP Foundation grant recipient? It’s seeing the smiles on my students’ faces and seeing them engaged in learning. It’s also about seeing teachers engaged and working together for the benefit of students.

So, think about it. Why not apply for a HIPP Foundation Grant? Maybe you and your students will go wild too!

Janene K. Onyango is an elementary school teacher in Willingboro. She is an active member and building representative of the Willingboro Education Association and can be reached at jonyango@wboe.net.

 

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