Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation Awards 26 Teacher Grants

Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation Board

The Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation recently awarded twenty-six grants to teachers this year for a total of $53,599.67. The grants were funded in part by Gulf Power (now Florida Power & Light Company), CHELCO, the Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation, and the State of Florida through the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. The teacher grants were distributed to fifteen different schools and fifteen of the teachers are first-time recipients. To support grant programs like these and many other activities promoted by the Foundation through tax-exempt donations, please visit the OPSF website.

Congratulations to this year’s recipients!

Antioch Elementary School

Laura Way – Disc Golf Program – $2,465.93

Tanya Demera and Laura Way

Disc golf is a growing activity within our area and community for people of all ages and for families. Disc golf requires coordination to aim and throw an object through a target. It is also a great activity for agility (ability to think and understand quickly during game play), balance (standing and throwing with proper form), and power (using the body to allow you to move the disc through the air properly and with appropriate force), and of course—coordination. Laura Way wants to help her students become familiar with an ever-growing community activity to help them connect, but she also wants to help students build coordination both physically and hand-eye. Each grade level K-5 has Physical Education standards related to coordination that disc golf can address. However, aside from a few frisbees, they have absolutely no equipment to utilize this up-and-coming sport with her students. Way requested assistance in funding the courses and discs to make this activity a reality for her students. Way commented, “With a total of almost 950 students and four teachers (2 coaches and 2 aides), we can really utilize 4 courses well and keep students actively engaged. We also need a lot of discs! We are excited to see our children build coordination through repeated practice and competition days!”

Tanya Demara – Tennis Equipment – $2,373.00

Tennis isn't just for adults anymore. Students should not have to wait until they are in middle or high school to get to experience this sport! With the help of this grant, Tanya Demara said that she could introduce this sport to 675 elementary age students right on the courts of Antioch Elementary School! “Our goal is to get students who right now could not hold a tennis volley to be able to volley at least 3 times over a net,” said Demara. “Being able to do this skill will require students to develop more cardiovascular endurance, hand-eye coordination, and agility.” Within our 6-week tennis focus, her goal is to get at least 80% of Antioch’s students to hold at least 3 volleys over the next. Demara went on to say, “We feel this is very lofty goal for 675 students, but with focused and repeated practice, feel this is possible.” Demara will take a few weeks to get a beginning data point on the student, teach them proper racket safety, and then in the spring when the weather is nicer more consistently (mid-March), she can begin the unit on tennis. She would love to be able to connect interested students with tennis coaches in the area, too!

Baker School

Amy Bowden – Accelerated Reader Program – $2,499.30

Amy Bowden

Over the last couple of years, pre-pandemic and during pandemic, Baker School has not been able to fund the Accelerated Reader (AR) program. Without the program, they have experienced a sharp decline in library visits and books checked out. The Baker School library already has books leveled and coded for AR tests but have no AR program to utilize. Seven teachers, including all of second grade, requested funding to be able to serve as a pilot for our school to re-introduce the AR program to the school and students. AR allows teachers to assign each student a color dot that corresponds with his/her independent reading level. Teachers can determine this level by using the Lexile level provided on the iReady and by their own classroom assessments. Students then check out books on their level. Once they have finished the book, students use an iPad to log in to the AR program, enter the book's code, and take the quiz. The AR tests hold the students accountable for actually reading the books instead of just flipping through the pages or pretending they read it or logging books on their nightly reading log that they didn't actually read. Students earn points as they successfully pass the AR quizzes. As they earn points, they earn AR prizes. These can be treasure chest in the classroom, special privileges (ice cream party?!), and even trophies. AR also allows Teachers to create grade-level challenges, set individual reading goals, monitor student progress, and move their levels up as they grow. “The possibilities of ways we can use this program to motivate our students to READ are vast,” said Bowden.

Gena Miller – Reflex Math Program – $2,500.00 (Not Pictured)

Research based, adaptive, and individualized, the Reflex math program (software) touts itself as a "solution that works for all students". Across Gena Miller’s grade level (and school), she states “we see a significant deficiency in students knowing their basic math facts. As second grade math teachers, we know we must address this gap before these students move to third grade and beyond or we will be only setting students (and teachers) up for more difficulties.” To help students begin to fill their fact fluency gaps, which are also impacting their confidence in mathematics, she wants to utilize the Reflex program. This program will help all students build their addition and subtraction facts. It can also be used for multiplication and division facts upon master of the addition and subtraction. Now that students each have their own devices in the classroom, this program can help the teachers maximize the small time gaps throughout the day. Students can even access and use this program from home, too! “We are excited about the progress and confidence this program will help us achieve with our students,” said Miller.

Tiffany Plunkett – Math by the Book – $2,417.83

Tiffany Plunkett

The professional development text Math by the Book and its corresponding library is a recommended resource by Okaloosa County math coaches. A team of 2 - 5th grade teachers at Baker School requested funding to be able to implement the math literature into their balanced math instruction. The texts requested in this grant come directly from the recommended book list from Math by the Book and will directly impact the conceptual understanding and real-world connections for at least 150 students this year and countless more in years to come as these are non-consumable resources. Each text requested directly correlates with a mathematics standard. For example. Parade by Donald Crews helps students explore repeated addition with arrays and Pizza Mouse by Michael Garland helps students understand how to compare fractions. Helping students understand the application of math concepts to their "outside the classroom" lives only builds stronger mathematical relationships and deeper connections.

Bluewater Elementary School

Claire Erk and Lauren Brown - Academic Team Buzzers – $550.00

Claire Erk and Lauren Brown

The academic team at Bluewater Elementary School has provided a platform for the quiet, studious students who may be unsure of themselves to shine! “The students on our academic team are often the introspective students who do not always speak up,” said Erk and Brown. “Participating on the academic team has empowered these students to share their knowledge with other students and has made them leaders in the classroom.” When they were gifted the old set of buzzers, students were even more excited to participate and share what they knew. They would often come to class after watching Jeopardy the night before and discuss what the Daily Double question was or who answered Final Jeopardy correctly. It gave the quiet student a voice to share with others the excitement they had for learning, and it was contagious in the classroom. At dismissal time, they would ask to play trivia which was simply the teacher reading some kids' trivia books for some quiet questions and answer time at the end of the day. A new set of buzzers will bring excitement to the students not only on the academic team, but also the grade level as both teachers use them periodically.

Choctawhatchee High School

Stefanie Jasinski – Calculators – $2,500.00

Stefanie Jasinski

Stefanie Jasinski requested funding for 18 graphing calculators that could be used in her PreCalculus Honors (PreCalc HN) class, and International Baccalaureate (IB) Math Analysis Year 1 and Year 2 courses. For the PreCalc HN course, the focus will be on investigating a variety of functions graphically including changing to different plotting systems. Students will be taught how to correctly complete calculations with correct order of operations and applications and how to calculate maximums, minimums, and intersections. In the IB Math Analysis courses, students will learn all of the items from PreCalc HN as well as how to create statistical analysis and data distributions. Students will also learn how to complete regression analysis for best-fit lines and curves and be able to graph a variety of functions and plots including bar graphs, box, and whisker, including outliers.

Crestview High School

Joanna Welch – Cosmetology Program – $2,500.00

Joanna Welch

Students who wish to obtain a cosmetology license are required by the Florida Board of Cosmetology to receive 1200 hours of specialty education. This education is a combination of theory and practical applications. Among the list of required practical applications, students must perform 300 hair styling services and 45 hair coloring services. A variety of styling and hair coloring products are essential, to meet this goal. Joanna Welch requested this funding to provide some of the basic consumables her students need to be successful. “Through this funding, we would help to provide our classroom with hair coloring and styling consumable products so that the students can reach the required hands-on learning to be able to earn their Cosmetology license,” stated Welch. “This funding would support two specific program goals: 1. Students will be able to effectively formulate, select and apply hair coloring products, and 2. Students will effectively arrange hair using the correct styling products and skills. This will be documented with a pre- and post-test that will be administered before each learning goal over the program year.”

Destin Middle School

LaTavia Deliford – Coding – $2,500.00

LaTavia Deliford

LeTavia Deliford’s project goal is to expand student interest in Coding. “We want the opportunity for Industry Certifications to be accessible to every student enrolled in our Coding Fundamentals, Fundamentals of Web Design, and Web and Software Development courses,” stated Deliford. “We also want to use the Software from which the examinations were designed.” This program provides the curriculum tailored to assist with the successful completion of the Industry Certifications required to matriculate through the hierarchy of courses. The curriculum also has activities of varying difficulties so teachers can truly reach students at all achievement levels. “We believe that if we can get students who are interested in Coding, Web Design and Development to accelerate throughout their middle school career, students will learn the skills necessary to not only earn a passing score on their Industry Certifications but will also prepare them for a career in Coding and Software Development,” said Deliford.

Elliott Point Elementary School

Shannon DeBerry – Music Program – $1,275.68

Shannon DeBerry

Shannon DeBerry has been using everyday objects in her classroom to create music. Using the funds to enhance the music program, her first step will be able to identify an instrument that sounds like one she has made and then trade out our handmade egg shakers with wooden egg shakers. Rhythm will be introduced by using instruments that make a variety of sounds. “We will begin working with following verbal directions with me providing visual models while my students are using the shaker with different tempos and dynamics,” said DeBerry. Handmade instruments

Fort Walton Beach High School

Michelle Cottrell - $1,550.00

Michelle Cottrell

There is currently a need to add educational learning resources to the Computer Fundamentals classes at Fort Walton Beach High School. The ICEV program Michelle Cottrell requested funding for in this grant has many different content/ classes available and supports many of the Florida Career and Technical Education (CTE) standards in an online format. The Florida standards are in line with what many states have set for learning the industry standards and the education the students obtain from these classes is directly tied to career education and skill set. This program will help better organize the content that the student needs to learn to cover the CTE standards while increasing critical thinking skills, student motivations for learning, student confidence in what resources are available to them, and career and technical education memorization.

Megan Mueller – Rejuvenation Biomedical Sciences Project – $2,500.00

Megan Mueller

The Rejuvenation Biomedical Sciences Project is an opportunity to provide hands on experiences in the Biomedical Science field for students interested in pursuing a career in Biomedical Science. This grant will provide the funds to purchase lab kits and durable equipment to keep up with the ever-changing biomedical science field. Through this grant, students will be able to explore careers in Biomedical Science by practicing real world skills in each field. Students will be able to use the same equipment that professionals use to better prepare them for their future in education and/or career. Students will have the ability to act as forensic investigators to test evidence found at a crime scene, learn clinical health by performing clinical lab tests and phlebotomy (using simulated phlebotomy arms), DNA analysis by running DNA through electrophoresis machines, antibiotic resistance by colonizing bacteria and testing it for antibiotic resistance, water quality by testing for conforms, and amplifying DNA using Polymerase Chain Reaction and so much more. “The goal of the Rejuvenation Biomedical Sciences Project is to increase student enrollment in the program, increase retention rates from year one to year two and increase the number of students that pursue careers in Biomedical Science post-secondary education, whether through application to science fields in college or going directly into a biomedical science career after high school graduation,” state Mueller.

Laurel Hill School

Cary Gibbons – Scholastic Book Sets – $1,148.34

Cary Gibbons

Primary grades need books that fall below, at, and above grade level reading to address the various levels of each individual student. Cary Gibbons states, “we are currently In need of books that fall within in this range as well as activities that enhance reading and writing success.” Funding from this grant will be used to purchase book sets, storage, learning activities for sight words, phonics, and writing, and an online progress monitoring tool. Additional supplies requested include copy paper to print reports and data, parent letters, and flashcards for students. The Scholastic book sets Gibbons requested will give students access to appropriate grade level literature options based on their individual reading levels. Students will be participating and engaged in learning activities and will practice phonics and sight word games in both small groups and stations.

Meredith Ness – Heggerty Bridge the Gap Program – $820.96

Meredith Ness

The Building Successful Second Grade Readers project addresses weaknesses in phonological awareness, decoding ability, and visual imagery. According to the iReady diagnostic assessment administered at the beginning of the school year, 13 out of 29 (45%) of second grade students require Tier 2 interventions to bring the students up to grade level in reading. Further examination of the diagnostic data shows that these students have deficits in phonological awareness as well as comprehension. By using the Heggerty Bridge the Gap Intervention, Heggerty decodable readers, and the Visualizing and Verbalizing programs, second grade teachers will be able to address student needs. The Heggerty Bridge the Gap program addresses weaknesses in phonological awareness. Ness states that “According to the University of Florida's Literacy institute, phonological awareness is essential for students to develop decoding skills. Without phonological awareness, students will not learn to decode with automaticity.” To help build students' decoding ability, Heggerty decodable books that are high interest will be used. Students will read these books to practice decoding skills during small group instruction. By reading texts accessible to these readers, their confidence in their reading ability will increase. Students will then apply their skills to new texts, increasing their ability to read new texts. The Visualizing and Verbalizing program will help build comprehension skills through the development of concept imagery, a skill struggling readers lack. Without concept imagery, students are unable to make meaning of what they read. Visualizing and Verbalizing guides students to build their visualization skills, positively impacting their comprehension. By building phonological awareness, decoding ability, and concept imagery, second grade teachers will be able to close the gap and increase reading ability in struggling readers. “These programs can also be used in interventions for other grade levels and can have a positive impact on improving reading scores across the elementary school,” said Ness.

Meredith Ness – Non-fiction Books for Library – $2,412.68

Meredith Ness

The funding from Meredith Ness’ grant will be used to increase the number of non-fiction titles that are in circulation in the Laurel Hill school library. Currently there are 1,300 non-fiction titles to serve students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Based on the current recommendation that a school library house at least 20 books for each student, 10 of which need to be nonfiction, our school library Is lacking in informational text. “Our library needs to house at least 2,000 non-fiction titles to meet the reading needs of our elementary students,” said Ness. Many of the titles housed in the school library are older. The older books lack the attention-getting cover pages that grab a young reader's attention. Ness continued, “One suggestion that students have made is that our school library needs more non-fiction books. The students want to read non-fiction text in areas that interest them, but report having difficulty finding books that pique their interest. Non-fiction text is integral to building background knowledge. Building background knowledge is vital to our student's success. Having background knowledge helps students better comprehend what they read.” >

Longwood Elementary School

Kim Luallen – $2,500.00 and Kim McLaughlin – $1,835.95 – Vibe Smartboards

Kim Luallen and Kim McLaughlin

In our fast-paced tech-driven world, capturing the hearts of children is a challenge. Keeping their attention, especially that of a 5-year-old is an even bigger challenge. Interactive whiteboards allow teachers to take standard lessons and turn them into interactive activities. Kids have fun while they learn. “As a teacher, I want my students to feel like school is a magical place where we take lots of imaginary learning trips,” said Luallen. Using Vibe Smartboards, students will get to experience learning in the same interactive, innovative and creative way. Their field trips wouldn't be to the bottom of the ocean or inside a volcano, but they can experience "trips" to the Bronx Zoo or The White House with the touch of a pen.

Pryor Middle School

Greg Rynearson - House Framing Modeling Kits - $2,500.00

Greg Rynearson

The students in Greg Rynearson’s construction class come from a range of backgrounds, but 80% come from households where one, if not both, parents are in the construction field. The students see the success and potential of the growing construction field, and several are already working in the construction field on the weekends. At the middle school level, Rynearson is providing these students with skills and projects that will allow them to earn Industry Certifications so that when they transfer into the workforce full-time, they are prepared to enter at a higher level and earn higher wages. He offers his students engaging, hands-on experiences that mirror what will be used in the labor market. Funding from this grant will support the purchasing of House Framing Modeling Kits for the construction classroom. These kits would help students practice and master the construction standard: AC. 68CONSTR.04.0L-Carpentry Fundamentals, which states that students must be able to create building models from a set of scaled drawings. Students will use project-based learning to frame houses from scaled drawings from the modeling kit. Using the models, Rynearson will be able to offset the rising cost of lumber, while still providing hands-on, meaningful learning experiences for the students.

Pia Chedraui – Sensory Room – $2,500.00

Pia Chedraui

Pia Chedraui will use the OPSF funding to create a sensory room at Pryor Middle School for all students with disabilities. This sensory room will encompass things such as floor mats, wall mats, noise reduction headphones, weighted blankets, and brainteasers just to name a few. These items are all specialized in decompressing and comforting when a student is in distress. Chedraui states, “with the acquisition of these items, we will not only be helping our students in their time of need, but also improve their academic performance throughout the day, and eventually raise up their testing scores.”

Michael Lightbourne and Brittany Sands - $2,500.00 each

Michael Lightbourne

Brittany Sands

School-wide Positive Behavior Instruction and Supports (PBIS) is a prevention model based on the premise that all students can benefit from well-implemented, evidence-based practices for improving student behavior and classroom instruction. It also provides informed decision-making based upon data analysis that guides the process of assessing student needs and providing additional levels of behavioral support to students in need. At Pryor Middle School, all teachers and students are aware of the PBIS system as the following items are outlined to all:

  • Behavioral Expectations are set with REAL Pirates Behavior Matrix (Respect, Excellence and Personal Growth, Accountability, Leadership, and Integrity)
  • Behavioral Expectations are taught through homeroom lessons and in real life examples day to day.
  • Appropriate Behaviors are acknowledged with HERO points, HERO store, and monthly grade-level rewards.
  • Behavior Errors are corrected and discussed through the MTSS process.

Funding from this grant will assist in the purchasing of reinforcements and acknowledgments for Pryor’s PBIS initiative, including purchasing items for the HERO store so that items there are stronger reinforcements for good behavior; picnic lunches or small treats for grade levels with the least number of referrals; and buying supplies for My Team Luncheons.

Casey Mills Murray, Brittany Tate, and Michael Lightbourne – STEM Saturdays – $2,500.00

Casey Mills Murray

Brittany Tate

Mike Lightbourne

To help prepare and provide an equal opportunity to all students taking the state End-of-Course Exams in STEM fields, funding for this grant will support a project known as STEM Saturdays. Twice during the month of April, students will be invited to attend a 'STEM Bootcamp' that will focus on preparing students for the upcoming state exams in mathematics and science. During STEM Saturday, students will review content from the year through the use of Escape Rooms, Games, Technology and Practice Exams. All students in Algebra I Honors, Geometry I Honors and 8th-grade science courses will be invited to attend. Those that attend will be provided with breakfast and lunch, a shirt, and if needed, transportation. To make STEM Saturday a success, this grant would support five critical components: Lab Materials, Headphones, Shirts, Breakfast / Lunch, and Bus Transportation.

Riverside Elementary School

Angelica Espeseth – Kodable – $2,500.00

Angelica Espeseth

Angelica Espeseth’s OPSF grant will allow Riverside Elementary to implement computer coding classes for all the students in grades K-5. Using the online program Kodable, teachers will give students the tools needed to understand coding and be able to write their own code. “Coding is the perfect skill to teach young children because it Is highly engaging while teaching them how to problem solve, think critically, and persevere through a difficult problem,” said Espeseth. “We already have a computer lab equipped with 25 laptops that are already connected and supported. We have a teacher who is certified and able to teach the classes. This will provide the lesson plans and reports that can help ensure the success of the program.” All students will have lessons in Sequence, Conditions, Loops, and Functions. These lessons are designed to teach Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Divergent & Convergent Thinking, Resilience & Persistence, and Pattern Recognition. 3-5 grade students will go even farther and learn to Identify String, Integer, and Array variables, to Differentiate between variable types, and to Understand the role of variables in programming.

Silver Sands School

Kelley Axt and Marian Gilmore – Growth House – $2,500.00

Kelley Axt and Marian Gilmore

Functional independent life skills are a critical component of high school transition students grade band curriculum. Silver Sands School for students with severe intellectual and physical disabilities incorporates these independent life skills in everyday curriculum. The school has the ability to use a Growth House (Green House) to help teach these important life skills to our students. Students learn responsibility, job related skills, maintaining a work space, keeping plants and animals alive and thriving and the inner workings of keeping a green house functional. To complete these life skills, the Growth House requires equipment updates to help maintain the space while keeping students safe and properly equipped, considering students' physical limitations and needs. However, the Growth House is in desperate need of updated equipment, materials,and tools. The new tools, equipment, and materials will help the teachers utilize the Growth House as a component of their transition grade band curriculum and will provide the students with an enriching and memorable school learning experience. To create opportunities for successful learning and for the students to reach their learning goals, Silver Sands will use the OPSF funding to purchase new equipment such as deep growth beds, a regulated air blower, grow bed raft materials, and grow bed piping.

Shoal River Middle School

Laurie Allen – CTE Exams – $2,500.00

Laurie Allen

Laurie Allen’s students need curriculum and exams to fulfill the Career Technical Education (CTE) vision and requirement of middle school students successfully obtaining technical/industry certifications. The curriculum and proctored certification exams are costly and adding the online curriculum is currently a must, given the climate of the schools and students having to be out for extended periods of time due to symptoms, illness, or quarantine. This grant will subsidize the $4255.00 cost of this year’s exams for her 108 enrolled students. In preparing for the test students are given real life projects to learn how to apply their skills. These certifications not only give the students an education in that specific area but they give a real sense of accomplishment. Students can use the certifications in their resumes for future jobs or if they are planning to go to college, on a college entrance application. Allen’s goal is to have 60% of her test taking students to obtain their certifications.

Walker Elementary School

Sandra Robinson – Supplies for 2nd Graders – $500.00

Sandra Robinson

Every year, Sandra Robinson spends money out of her own pocket to purchase binders, notebook paper, and dividers for my students. The binders stay on her bookshelf for easy access. During station rotation students are given seatwork practice worksheets to put in their binder. At the end of the day, she grades each binder, leaves notes to the students, and then goes over any concept the students did not fully comprehend the next day.



About the Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation (OPSF):

The OPSF is a not-for-profit community-based public schools foundation. It is a partnership between families, schools, the community, and businesses. The Foundation is dedicated to supporting and extending the educational opportunities of all individuals within Okaloosa County. Since its establishment in 1995, OPSF has funded educational enrichment programs including teacher grants for unique programs, student scholars in the Take Stock in Children Program, community educational initiatives, and student and teacher recognition awards. For more information about Take Stock in Children and the Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation, visit www.OkaloosaSchools.com/OPSF

About the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations (CFEF):

The CFEF is the membership organization for Florida’s school district-wide local education foundations. Established in 1987, the CFEF seeks to advance student achievement in Florida by increasing private sector investment and involvement in public education. The CFEF now has 64 member foundations with 1,100 business and community leaders serving as volunteer board members. Collectively, they raise more than $64 million annually to support students, teachers, and schools through a variety of programs. The CFEF has provided more than $46 million to local education foundations since 2001 through various private- and public-sector partnerships, including the State of Florida School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program.