By KAYLA J. MARSH
ABERDEEN — The Matawan-Aberdeen Educational Foundation has awarded grants to several district teachers to enhance and enrich the learning experience for students.
“[We want] to recognize exceptional teachers who make learning innovative and fun for our students,” said Foundation Chairperson Keiko Gendi.
“Every year we award grants, and after we award the grants, we don’t really know what happens to them, so [we wanted to give our recipients the chance] to give a brief presentation on where their grant project went.”
The recognition program took place during the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District’s Board of Education meeting June 13.
“The grants are adorable, are cutting-edge, are innovative, and we thank the teachers who think outside the box and help this district get a little bit better every year,” Gendi said.
Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School teacher Lindsey Lorefice received a grant to enrich the education of her music students by introducing them to an instrument they may not have heard of before.
“In seventh grade music classes our students have been learning how to play the dulcimer,” she said. “This is an Appalachian folk instrument that teaches students about the relationship between melody and harmony.”
During her presentation, Lorefice had one of her students demonstrate the skills he has been learning.
“The instrument also allows the student to sing and play at the same time,” she said. “It is so exciting that anyone can play the instrument and pick it up very easily and make beautiful music.”
A grant received by second grade enrichment teacher Lisa Bauer, who teaches at the Strathmore, Cliffwood and Ravine Drive elementary schools, allowed students to have some fun with clay.
“Claymation is basically a stop-motion animation where the kids were able to create a character, create a storyboard, and we were able to turn it into a video,” she said. “The videos are very short, it takes about a hundred pictures to make a 10-second video, so it is a long process, but the kids were able to be very creative and innovative and work collaboratively with each other.”
Bauer mentioned the videos her students created already have more than 700 views on YouTube.
Cliffwood Elementary teacher Ann Molinari received a grant that went towards allowing students to utilize ThinkFun games to develop reasoning and creative thinking skills through play.
“It can be used from kindergarten all the way through adulthood because I played it and I loved it and that is what excited me,” she said, adding that the games have been incorporated into centers within district classrooms.”
Matawan Regional High School teacher Daniel Kaplan received a grant aimed at enhancing STEM Academy students’ utilization of a 3-D printer.
“Basically, what you do with a 3-D printer, you have to start with a CAD (computer-aided design) system … we’re using PTC Creo, which is a free software … and students select a problem or are given a problem to address, then they use the software to generate a file and then the file is transferred to another system linked to the 3-D printer, and then they print the part, test it and then redesign,” he said.
Kaplan had one of his students show how he used the printer to work on a mouthpiece for playing the French horn.
“The idea of the engineering course we’ve introduced this year is to go through the engineering process — a process where you develop something, test it, find out what’s wrong with it and start out all over again,” Kaplan said.
Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School Language Arts teacher Amy Raiola used her grant to further students’ exploration into poetry by allowing them to Skype children’s poet Kenn Nesbitt for two sessions — an interactive poetry workshop and a workshop geared toward teaching students how they can get their writing published.
“He was able to talk about his life and his background and how he got started in poetry, and the children were so impressed with how easily it came to him … they started to write poems together as a class,” she said. “He gave them the beginning and he gave them the end and the children kind of filled in the pieces in the middle.
“We took all the pieces together and … we’re in the process of creating a poetry anthology.”
Hearing Nesbitt talk about how easy it is in today’s world to publish writing lit a fire under her students according to Raiola.
“The second time he came back to talk to them about publishing poetry … my children left that day with like this fire in their eyes that they were all going to become published authors,” she said. “… It was inspiring for them and for me and I would definitely do this again because it was wonderful.”
The grant awarded to Strathmore Elementary School teacher Colleen Marion provided students tools to develop better reading skills and encouraged them to read more.
“What we did we got a grant for a program called Raz-Kids, and basically Raz-Kids is an opportunity for the children to get books online,” she said. “They can have books individualized on their reading levels and have access to it on their computers and iPads so they can use it at school and at home.”
Marion added a portion of the grant allowed students to utilize a program called Reading A-Z where they could print out books they could actually hold, color and take home.
While not in attendance at the June 13 meeting, Lloyd Road Elementary School teacher Bonnie Weinstein received a grant to enable students to use three different STEM materials to enhance scientific discovery and exploration in a hands-on approach — Little Bits to make their own circuits, Makey Makey to connect their computer to their environment and 4Doodler to create 3-D printing of their designs.
Matawan Regional High School teacher Jennifer Nangano, also not in attendance at the meeting, received a grant for The Circles program, aimed at helping students learn how relationships are formed and maintained according to the social norms and boundaries of today.
Board of Education members thanked the Educational Foundation and grant recipients for their hard work and dedication to improving the learning experience for students.
“I think that what we see here tonight is nothing short of remarkable, and putting resources in the hands of the people at the forefront of education and giving teachers the opportunity to do what they do to make a difference for kids is really what it is all about,” said Board member Joelle Nappi.
The Matawan-Aberdeen Educational Foundation is a nonprofit organization created to raise money for grants that enable educators to enrich and enhance the current educational standards.
Gendi said the Foundation has been awarding grants since its formation in 2001 and usually receives seven to 10 applications each grant season. She said the amount awarded to recipients can vary depending on the project, stating some are awarded as low as a few hundred dollars and some are awarded as high as a couple of thousand dollars.