Education foundation grants help teachers innovate: 'It's a great thing'

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Alexis McNeil stands in front of the iPad camera, ready to deliver a report.

"I just read a fantastic book called 'The Grinch who Stole Christmas' by Dr. Seuss," the 5th grader said.

McNeil is creating a BookTube, part of a program started at Ridgeview Elementary three years ago by librarian Karen Babcock.

"Our focus with the common core is really on writing, factual writing and informational writing and persuasive," Babcock said, "so this is a great venue to meet those common core goals."

This year, the students are making their BookTubes on seven new iPads Babcock bought with a $2,900 grant from the Springfield Education Foundation.

When Oregon voters passed Measure 5 back in 1990, it put a cap on property taxes - and the money struggle for schools began.

Since then, many of our local communities have started volunteers groups - education foundations - to help raise money to pay for things the districts no longer can.

The money is distributed in the form of grants, and what teachers and schools in communities like Springfield are able to do with it is making an impact.

Like BookTube. Here's how it works:

The kids read a library book and then create a video telling their classmates why they should read it, too.

The kids can edit together sound and pictures to create a living book report of sorts.

Then they're uploaded onto the district's BookTube channel where other kids can watch them and get excited about reading.

"Some kids don't think reading is that fun, and video games are big," said 5th grader Whitney Murray. "They'll realize that reading is like a video game and its super fun because you get to imagine it."

"What we find is the books that have a BookTube attached to them are the books that get checked out the most from our library," Babcock said.

Babcock was one of two dozen educators to be awarded with innovative teaching grants this school year delivered in a so-called prize patrol fashion by volunteers from the education foundation with the help from the Thurston High School drumline.

The ruckus surprised Ridgeview's music teacher Marty Weissbarth.

"At first, I thought something awful was going on on the roof," Weissbarth said, "and as they got closer I realized it was drums and in walked a bunch of my former students."

It was quite appropriate, actually: the foundation awarded him a $500 grant to buy some new drums so he could start an after-school drumline.

"We have a really healthy 5th grade orchestra, but not every kid wants to play violin so this is sucking in some kids who really want to play drums," Weissbarth said.

Twenty-five kids showed up on the first day.

Helping teach the kids is Thurston High sophomore Matt Gley. It was here as a student at Ridgeview that he first got excited about music.

"This room and Mr. Weissbarth are just great things that brought my music to life, you know," Gley said.

This drumline is about more than just the instruments.

"It's forming a connection between a kid and learning at school," Weissbarth said. "It's a great thing."

And it's proof that even small investments supporting creativity and innovation can have a big pay off in the classroom.

The education foundation looks to fund things that have measurable results, like improving attendance, increasing participation and raising test scores.

It recently secured a grant from the PacificSource foundation for a suicide prevention program for all the district's 8th graders.

And it's helping build the Native American center at Two Rivers Dos Rios, only the second of its kind in the state.

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