Hipp grant supports early childhood STEM program

by Laurie Derringer

For as long as I can remember, each month the NJEA Review has arrived at my door bringing me news of the latest happenings in New Jersey’s public schools. For many years, I read about the wonderful Hipp grants that were funded by the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education.

During the winter of 2019, I asked my friend Debra Carmody, a kindergarten teacher, to consider helping me to write a Hipp grant for STEM materials for preschool and kindergarten classrooms. She quickly agreed, and we set to the task of filling out the Hipp application. To my surprise, we received notice in May of 2019 that our project, titled STEM in the Early Childhood Classroom, was funded to the tune of $6,344. We were overjoyed with this wonderful news.

In the fall of 2018, I had the opportunity to go to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Conference, which was being held in Washington D.C. While attending this conference, I walked around the convention floor and look at the latest products available in early childhood learning. I played with TEGU blocks and LEGO Education sets designed for early learning. These materials were perfect for promoting STEM learning for young children. They were durable, open-ended and would be an excellent addition to any early childhood classroom.

Fortunately, our local Hamilton Township PTA, which was recognized as a “Friend of Education” by the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations in 2019, was kind enough to purchase four LEGO Education sets for our preschool program in 2018. These sets were moved around from classroom to classroom. The preschool students of Hamilton Township enjoyed countless hours using these materials to build and create. We could certainly use more sets!

As the preschool master teacher, I am always thinking about the classroom environment and the materials that are accessible to our students. Having interest areas set up with a variety of materials accessible to children during choice time is essential to any high-quality early childhood program. I have also read about the importance of having materials that promote STEM.

The Hipp grant came about as a result of seeing how the addition of high quality STEM materials can promote the learning of young children. The grant included the five preschool classrooms and five kindergarten classrooms at the Joseph C. Shaner School in Mays Landing. I was thrilled to learn that the Hipp grant was fully funded. This allowed for the purchase of LEGO education sets and TEGU blocks for all 10 early childhood classrooms listed in the grant. These materials were available for student use during choice time each day. The teachers reported that the students enjoyed these new materials and that they not only fostered science and math learning, but also helped with improving cognitive skills and social emotional development.

In addition to math and science skills, STEM materials improve problem solving skills and peer interaction.

Going beyond STEM

Our teachers currently use the Teaching Strategies GOLD online assessment student to track student progress. The observations recorded in GOLD quickly showed that these STEM materials not only helped the children to develop science and math skills, but they also improved in areas such as their ability to solve problems and interact with peers. Allowing the children the opportunity to use these STEM materials in an open-ended way has had benefits beyond STEM learning.

At the 2019 NJEA Convention, I attended the NJEA Celebration of Excellence, which shines a light on all of the Hipp grant award winners and the important work they are doing in their schools and districts. At this celebration, all of the county teachers of the year were recognized, as well as the 2020 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Kimberly Dickstein Hughes. Dickstein Hughes used her speech to celebrate and recognize all of her fellow teachers, who do amazing work for New Jersey public school students every day. Her passion for teaching and her desire to celebrate teachers across the state is more than evident.

I am grateful to Mrs. Carmody and the excellent teachers at the Shaner School who took the time to implement this grant in their classrooms. My colleagues are doing amazing things for their students every day. I thank the Hipp Foundation for funding this grant and allowing our students access to these materials. I also would encourage other NJEA members to apply for a HIPP grant and bring their ideas to life.

The NJEA Hipp grant provided $6,344 to fund high-quality STEM materials for kindergarteners in Hamilton Township.


Apply for a Hipp Grant

The NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education makes it possible for public school employees to receive grants that will help them bring creative ideas to life.

The only foundation of its kind in New Jersey, the Hipp Foundation supports initiatives to promote excellence in education. More than $2.1 million in grants for innovative educational projects that represent a bold, fresh approach by public school employees has already been awarded.

To apply for a Hipp grant, go to njea.org/hipp, and create an account that will allow you to begin, save, and edit a grant proposal online. When completed, you can print and submit the proposal with a few clicks. Grant writers still have to mail in a signature page. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2021.

Laurie Derringer is the preschool master teacher for Hamilton Township Public Schools, working at the George L. Hess Educational Complex in Mays Landing. She can be reached at DerringerL@hamiltonschools.org.