NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Grants fund member-led initiatives 

By Kathryn Coulibaly 

In 1993, NJEA’s Executive Committee founded the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education. Thirty years later, the foundation has awarded 460 grants totaling more than $2.49 million to public school employees across the state for innovative programs that benefit New Jersey’s public schoolchildren.  

The only foundation of its kind in New Jersey, the Hipp Foundation supports initiatives to promote excellence in education. Grants are awarded from $500 to $10,000, depending on the scope of the project. The annual deadline is March 1.  

 Who is Dr. Hipp? 

The grant program is named in honor of Dr. Frederick L. Hipp, a powerhouse executive director who built NJEA into the union and professional association it is today.  

Dr. Hipp joined NJEA staff as a spokesperson and organizer in 1941 and became the executive director in 1946.  

For the next 32 years, he led NJEA through profound changes, from social movements to political upheaval to organizational change. Under his direction, NJEA would enjoy the most dramatic growth in its history. Membership ballooned from 27,000 to 110,000. Not only were there more members to serve, but a greater number of services were offered, precipitating a need for more staff, which grew from three to 159 people over the course of his leadership.  

Dr. Hipp was an educational and labor visionary who helmed NJEA through the 1968 passage of the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, which guaranteed collective bargaining for unionized public employees, and the 1975 Public School Education Act, a law seeking to ensure the constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education, as well as many others.  

Dr. Hipp passed away in 1991 at the age of 83. Two years later, NJEA honored Dr. Hipp’s legacy by naming the grant program in his honor. 

Innovation in educators’ hands 

One of the unique aspects of the Hipp grants is that the funding belongs to the educator who applies for the grant. The district superintendent and local association president sign off on the grant application, but once the grant is awarded, it goes to the educator. In other words, if an educator is transferred to another building, or even moves districts, they take the grant with them and can implement it there.  

Hundreds of educators and thousands of students have benefited from Hipp grants. Here are just a few stories about their projects.  

A longtime grant winner 

Sue Ort has been one of the most successful Hipp grant applicants. Since 1998, she has won 20 to 25 grants (it’s hard to keep track once you hit double digits). For Ort, an elementary teacher in Washington Township, Morris County, the most rewarding part of the projects she runs is seeing the impact on students.  

“I have seen my students become more verbal and fearless,” Ort says. “They are so excited about the activities that they don’t even realize how much they are learning until later. So many of these activities allowed the students to build a newfound sense of accomplishment and willingness to try anything.” 

Collaborating with various colleagues, Ort has done projects that incorporated fairy tales, nursery rhymes, puppetry, the theme of kindness, reading, writing, publishing, robotics and coding, oral language expression, recycling, science, weather, and building and construction. She has used Hipp grant funds to purchase a miniature donkey, a miniature horse, a wallaby, greenhouses, plants, seeds, puppets, iPads, and a massive amount of literature, cubelets and more.  

Ort began working on projects with a colleague, Caryl Eissing, who was the first person who mentioned the Hipp grants to her. Later on, Ort worked with preschool teacher Denise Scairpon. Eventually, Scairpon’s daughter, Amanda Miranda, became a teacher and Ort’s collaborator.  

A vintage photo of Caryl Eissing (l), Denise Scairpon, and Sue Ort (seated) for their 2005 grant, “Project EGG: Everything Grows through Growing.”

A family tradition of grant writing 

Miranda was in high school when her mother and Ort began winning Hipp grants. When she became a teacher of students on the autism spectrum, she knew she wanted to apply for a grant to help expand her students’ educational opportunities.  

Miranda has won eight to 10 grants on a variety of topics, and the impact on her students has been universally positive.  

“Through these grants, my students became self-confident, excited about learning, and have learned many life skills that will continue to benefit them throughout the years to come,” Miranda says. “Watching one of my students on the autism spectrum become more social and begin to make friends through these grants has been simply amazing to witness firsthand.”  

Lisa McGhee’s Read Lead Succeed book club is getting Princeton Middle School students reading.

Inspiring a love of reading 

Lisa McGhee, a Princeton Middle School teacher, wanted to find a way to inspire a love of reading in her students. She won four Hipp grants over several years to create literacy projects that included book clubs, author visits and purchasing books that her students would enjoy reading.  

“Since these students were always told they were ‘poor’ readers, they lost their interest in reading,” McGhee says. “During the book clubs, the students used comprehensive strategies to read high interest books for enjoyment.”  

Hillsborough High School students share their stories and perspectives on the Prejudice and Pride podcast.

Podcasting project 

Hillsborough High School social studies teacher Robert Fenster wrote a grant for a podcasting project called Prejudice & Pride.  

“The Hipp grant allowed my students to develop an array of skills in the podcasting arena,” Fenster says. “But more importantly, it gave them a venue to express themselves on topics that were profoundly important to their identities as they tackled subjects not covered in school, such as code switching, biracial adoption and colorism. They will long remember the work that empowered them and that they chose to do on their own volition.”  

Catherine Troia-Slutzky poses with students participating in the Here We Grow project.

Golf and gardening grants 

Northern Valley Regional High School District special education teacher Catherine Troia-Slutzky and her collaborator Robyn Ivey wanted to fund programs that helped include their students in the greater educational community and get them to participate in activities that other students do. Thanks to two Hipp grants funded over several years, their students, who are high school students on the autism spectrum, participated in golf and gardening projects. The first, ACCESS to the Links, brought together typical students from Northern Valley Demarest High School and students on the spectrum for golf lessons and to play together once a week.  

Their other grant, Here We Grow, funded a hydroponic raft garden system and supplies so students could participate in planting, harvesting and—hopefully—tasting fresh produce. Excess produce is offered to staff for purchase or donated to the local food pantry.  

“We saw the enjoyment our students took in these activities, whether golf or gardening,” Troia-Slutzky says. “Seeing them participate in activities that are not regularly available to them made it all worthwhile.”  

While Hipp grants are typically funded for one year, it is possible to apply for a continuation grant. However, the goal is to eventually build up community support of the program so that it can continue after the seed money from the Hipp Foundation is no longer available.

Educators in the lead 

The impact on educators has been profound. It has given many of them a sense of ownership and satisfaction because they are implementing projects they believe will benefit their students. 

Hope Ranalli and Warren Hills Middle School students showcase the power of the Zen Zone

The Zen Zone 

“Hipp grants are important because they enable educators to provide materials, do projects and fund programs that can’t be funded by individual school districts due to limited funds,” McGhee says.  

School counselor Hope Ranalli created the Zen Zone at Warren Hills Middle School to provide students and staff with a mindfulness space where they could engage in a variety of activities, including yoga, meditation, using singing bowls and more. In addition to purchasing materials for the space, Ranalli used part of the grant money to become SEL (Social Emotional Learning) certified.   

“We have seen an improvement in our staff and student mental health while utilizing the space,” Ranalli says. “The Zen Zone is a popular location for the students, and they crave being in there. The ability for staff and students to ‘escape’ the school building and focus on improving their mental health has been such a positive experience for our school community.”  


First-time grant winner Canaan Bump is in the process of implementing his project, HealthRhythms: Integrated Drum Therapy Program, in the Wanaque Borough School District, but he has already felt the impact of winning a Hipp grant.  

“I would certainly recommend that other educators apply for a Hipp grant,” Bump says. “The funded projects have the potential to spark passion, increase student engagement, create opportunity for exploration and help foster school community in a direct and meaningful way.”  

The power of funding 

Money is always an issue in education, and front-line educators are rarely the people who get to decide how funds are distributed. Thanks to the independence that Hipp grants provide, educators are the ones making the decisions about how to implement their project.  

For Vernon Township Middle School art teacher Lisa Hirkaler, who established a Sensory Garden in the school’s natural space and a Social Justice Art and Book Club,“Hipp grants provide the means to the dreams!” In times of budget austerity, when even teacher positions, clubs, and after school buses have to be pared back, running a Hipp grant will help you feel like you are accomplishing something extraordinary for your students.  

“Hipp grants provided us the resources to make student and teacher dreams come to fruition.”  

Hipp grants are open to all New Jersey public school employees and everyone from pre-k through community college are encouraged to apply. To read more about this year’s grants, go to njea.org/hipp. 

Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of the NJEA Review and provides content and support to njea.org. She can be reached at kcoulibaly@njea.org

Apply for an NJEA Hipp Grant

Got a great idea? Get it funded!  

Applications are due March 1, 2024, but start now! Go to njea.org/hipp to read about past projects and get ideas and inspiration. Sign in to the application portal for Frequently Asked Questions, tips and tutorials on how to write the strongest grant possible.  

Support the Hipp Foundation

There are many ways to financially support the Hipp Foundation and help us continue to fund even more programs.


You can make a donation at any time by sending a check payable to the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation and mailing it to:  

NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation 
PO Box 1211 
Trenton, NJ 08607-1211 

Buy a brick 

You can purchase a brick paver to honor colleagues, retirees and other supporters of public education and advocacy outside the main entrance to NJEA Headquarters in Trenton. More information is available at njea.org/hipp. 

Recycle your ink cartridges 

You can help Hipp and the planet by recycling your ink through Planet Green Recycle. They will make a donation to the Hipp Foundation when you use the Hipp program code. Here’s how it works:  

  1. Gather four or more ink cartridges. 
  2. Go to planetgreenrecycle.com to print out free USPS labels. 
  3. Use the Hipp Foundation’s Program ID Code 31808 to ensure the foundation receives the credit for your donations. 
  4. Use any box to mail the ink cartridges to Planet Green Recycle for free. 
  5. Ask friends, family and businesses to participate, as well.