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Springfield Education Foundation nationally recognized; gives grant to history teacher

Springfield Education Foundation gets national recognition for its work, which includes a grant to teach history with chess boards. Photo by Audrey Weil.

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- The Springfield Education Foundation is being recognized as one of the top ten school foundations in the country for its work with public schools.

"For our district's size, coming in eighth nationally is a very big deal to us. And we couldn't be more pleased and proud of the work that they've done on behalf of Springfield students," Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said.

In the past 10 years, the foundation has invested more than $1 million in student programs.

It pays for many things Springfield Public Schools couldn't otherwise afford, given tight budgets.

That includes art, music, and career technical education programs, among others, and 22 Innovative Educator Grants.

"The students are so jazzed about the new toys and programs that they're able to participate in and take advantage of," Foundation Board Chair Micah Adams said.

One of those innovative educator grants was given to social studies teacher Colin Lyons at Hamlin Middle School.

He's used the money to buy chess boards for his class and uses them to teach medieval history.

"It gets really dry sometimes so I wrote a grant and I've done it for a few years now where I teach feudalism through chess," Lyons said.

The students are getting it.

"Feudalism is just a triangle of like ranks," seventh grader Brayden Mitchell said. "And at the top there's the king obviously."

It's the same hierarchy played out on the chess board.

"We talk about how feudalism affected people's lives and why pawns could only move forward only so much," Lyons said.

Lyons' been doing this since he first started teaching to make class a little more exciting.

"We want to make sure that we give kids the opportunity to learn outside the box a bit and give them new skills because a lot of kids will learn in different ways," he said. "Every time they see a chess piece I think that hopefully it will kind of trigger those past memories of, ‘Oh yeah, Mr. Lyons taught us about feudalism.’"

It's one thing to read about it; it's another thing to play it, Lyons said.

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