Christmas comes early for Rocklin teachers

$16,200 in gifts awarded to six Rocklin teachers
By: Rebecca Heath, Special to the Placer Herald
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Six Rocklin teachers received a big surprise last week as a non-profit version of the prize patrol visited their classrooms bearing gifts. The gifts, totaling $16,200, are part of the Great Idea teacher grant program from the Rocklin Educational Excellence Foundation, a non-profit partnership of community members and businesses. Grant funds will be used for everything from iPads for special needs students and books for English language learners to SMART boards for at-risk middle-schoolers. Founding chairman Tom DeLapp said the goal is to provide supplemental funding to help enhance student achievement. “One of the most important things the community can do is recognize great teaching,” DeLapp said. “We encouraged teachers to apply for funding for things that they might normally not be able to get through budgeted programs with the general fund.” Rocklin Unified School District has grappled with a $8 million budget shortfall in the last three years. “By bringing together community and civic leaders, we intend to create the additional resources that will maintain the competitive edge for our students,” DeLapp said. The largest winner was a team headed by Springview Middle School teacher Kim Byrholdt, who won $6,633 for three SMART Boards for at-risk seventh-grade students. The boards, which are essentially computer screens on a wall, will allow her students to do more interactive and visual activities. “I’m thrilled,” she said after the prize patrol group consisting of DeLapp, her principal, and REEF officers Brian Whitmore and Todd Lowell, burst into her classroom. “We’ll get to integrate technology into the class in a way we never have before. The students will definitely benefit.” Principal Marty Flowers added, “Anything interactive like this gets kids very excited. These students were born and raised with computers so we have to continue to change our way of teaching to meet their needs.” Recipients of the second largest grant were Parker Whitney Elementary School teacher Laurie Adams and Principal Denny Rush. The $3,639 grant will go for First Wave books to help Kindergarten through second —grade students increase reading fluency and comprehension. “It’s like Christmas has come early, “Adams said, as the students of her combined kindergarten/first grade class paired off into reading teams. “These are really specialized books for struggling and emergent readers that we do not have now.” The English Language Specialists received $3,300 for six iPads to use for small group instruction with English Language Learners at all 11 elementary schools. That team, lead by Rocklin Elementary School teacher Mark Alfaro, included Lindsay Wong/ELD Program Specialist and Principal Amanda Makis. “This will really help them learn because the more they’re able to touch the words, see the words in different ways or utilize pictures the better they comprehend the words,” Alfaro said. Rocklin High School’s English Language Learner program is a district magnet school and serves students speaking more than 26 different native languages. One of the biggest challenges for teachers Laura Sellers and Adrienne Tacla has been finding reading materials in all those languages to support student literacy. The $1,500 grant from REEF will purchase much needed primary language library materials. Studies show that literacy in the native language is an essential precursor to English literacy, especially in academics. “It’s a huge challenge, said Sellers. It’s the academic language that students struggle with for a much longer time.” Since she also teaches Spanish, Selllers can support native Spanish speakers. “But I can’t do that with Korean or Arabic or Russian,” she added. “To get a grant that allows us to buy books, music. dictionaries and magazines to reinforce their native language literacy is going to translate into success for Rocklin.” Sierra Elementary teacher Katrina Loutensock was awarded $944 for three iPads for special needs fourth-through sixth-graders. They will be using an app called “See, Touch, Learn” that creates special individualized flash cards, with concepts repeated in games to reinforce learning. The last grant was for $175 to occupational therapist Margie McLain, who will use it to furnish a comfort room to help calm autistic students in Rocklin High School’s special day class. The funds come at a time of declining public educational funding leaves schools struggling to meet basic needs. Teachers say none of these programs could have been funded without these grants. “We absolutely couldn’t do it without these funds,” said Adams. Her principal agrees. “In our current budget this is huge,” said Rush. “These are tools that we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.” The foundation has raised more than $50,000 since it was started in 2009, just as state education funding began its steep decline. “You can imagine how difficult it was to start an enterprise like an education foundation in the teeth of the worst economy of any of our lifetimes,” said Todd Lowell, RUSD Trustee and REEF board member. Rocklin Royale Casino Night, which will be held at the Rocklin Mercedes Benz dealership in February, is one of REEF’s major fundraisers. “We hope to increase both our fundraising efforts and the amount of the grants as years go on,” said Whitmore, vice chairman. 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