Shannon Foundation Grants to ACPS Teachers Fund 15 Innovative Ideas to Support Student Learning


Next month will be the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, and for one sixth-grade student during that time, it was an experience that still shapes her life. Kristina Passi lived in New Jersey when the attacks on the World Trade Center took place, and today she teaches sixth grade at Walton Middle School.

Passi is one of 15 Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) teachers who were awarded a Shannon Grant this year. She calls her project, “Reconnecting in a Disconnected World.” Her grant will allow her students to develop and identify strategies to lessen trauma and to use mindfulness to overcome stressful situations, learning from the shared emotions of a historical event that forever changed a nation. 

The Edgar and Eleanor Shannon Foundation for Excellence in Public Education was established in 1990 to fund projects by public school teachers in the city and county that represent innovative programming. The Foundation is named for University of Virginia President Emeritus, Edgar F. Shannon, Jr., and his wife, Eleanor, in honor of their contributions to public education over many years.

According to the foundation, teachers who have received grants have documented increases in student test scores and greater enthusiasm for learning. All administrative costs for the foundation are funded through contributions from its board of directors, so 100% of monies received from the public is used for school projects.

While Passi’s project is especially relevant this year, it is only one of many new ideas that ACPS teachers will bring into their classrooms this year to engage students and their families and to increase outreach to school communities. Madeline Michel, for instance, who received the national Excellence in Theater Education Award from the Tony Awards and Carnegie-Mellon University in 2019, will receive $5,000 from the foundation to take performance art into the community. Michel teamed with the school’s chorus teacher, Ellie Weikle, in developing the project, which will include a portable stage constructed by students. The stage will include lighting and can be used for outdoor performances, lessons, celebrations and ceremonies throughout the year.

Crozet Elementary School’s Atlanta Hutchins took an idea that dates back to 1926 to raise the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of her students through her school’s modern-day book of the month club. Students and their families will take on design challenges in science, technology, engineering and math based on the books they will select for reading. Hutchins will receive $4,869 for her project. 

Two other projects funded at higher levels include the “I AM Project,” submitted by Julie Stavitski and Don Barnes from the Community Lab School, and “Music for All,” offered by Elizabeth Vaughn from Henley Middle School. The “I AM Project” will use Community Lab School’s art-infused curriculum for a year-long collaborative in which students will study how their identities affect their learning and how those unique identities can benefit the community. At Henley, “Music for All” will enable students to study music composition, theory and performances from around the world as a prelude to designing their own performance for families later in the year.

In an unusual development this year, Nancy Kendall Williams of Baker-Butler Elementary School earned three grants for the school’s second-graders. The projects include studying the character traits of famous Americans that helped the nation; using students’ creative skills and sense of empathy to design crafts to share with local nursing home residents; and painting messages of happiness, hope and kindness on river rocks around the school. A similar project was approved for Hope Caplan at Crozet Elementary School. 

Stone-Robinson’s Angie Foreman submitted two projects that were funded. For one, students will use puppet theater to develop confidence and enhance their emotional development, while a second project will improve learning spaces outside the school library for outdoor study. In another library project, at Western Albemarle High School, Meghan Streit will work with students on selecting great American stories that will be part of classroom libraries that will be curated by students. Also, at Western, Caroline Bertrand proposed bringing together students, parents and staff in a book club that will focus on how to build nurturing partnerships that build trust and a shared sense of school community. 

Woodbrook Elementary pre-K teacher Patrice Harris’ project, “Pre-K Gives You All the Feels,” will use books and activities to support four- and five-year-old students to understand their emotions and show empathy for classmates in building healthy relationships. Heidi Hull, a special services teacher, was also approved for a grant that allows students with disabilities to use yoga to improve their fitness and confidence while reducing stress and anxiety.

Overall, the 15 grants to school division teachers total $18,626.


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