Another generous round of grants benefit students

The spring cycle of the Mardi Lowry McDonough ’87 fund awarded more than $28,000 for projects across the district, thanks to generous support from Education Foundation donors. You can support this permanent fund anytime to make a difference for students. Here are just a few of the projects making a difference for students!

Stationary bikes transform physical energy into creative inspiration

Delta Program Middle School • Stationary Bikes • $600 Awarded

What does a middle school teacher do with limited resources and students abounding in pre-teen energy? According to teacher Kat Hoffman, the answer for the Delta Program Middle School students lies in accessible exercise. The school is designed around flexibility and community, which gives students and parents the ability to be more involved in their learning programs, and their latest advancement is the installation of stationary bicycles to allow students to stay active and engaged as they complete classwork.

“Our idea is to place exercise bikes near or in each classroom so kids with lots of energy can work some off while doing independent reading or discussions,” said Kat Hoff-man, a teacher of Language Arts and Science at Delta. Unlike other means of exercise, stationary bikes are unobtrusive and quiet so they can be used while reading, studying, or working with classmates. The bikes will allow students to get moving and stay active while improving student engagement. 

Grant funds are helping to purchase the bikes one or two at a time. The ultimate goal is for bikes to be present in every classroom for use at any time. The bikes will be available and beneficial for all 135 Delta Middle School students, as well as any Delta High School students who wish to use them.

The bikes will not only let students release energy and stay concentrated, they will also provide opportunities for student involvement and leadership. “Having the bikes will allow us to do things like ride-a-thons to raise money and would also stimulate their brains while getting exercise,” said Kat. “Asking students how to use the bikes, how to allocate the use of the bikes, and how to care for the bikes are also areas for student innovation and creativity.” 

Garden project creates promising opportunities to aid all students in transition after high school

State College Area High School • Transition Workforce Development & Herb to Table Program • $500 Awarded

For high school students with different abilities, programs that pave the way to employability after graduation are key. State High offers many resources to prepare students for the workplace, but Lydia Everhart foresees a more inclusive program that helps students with disabilities navigate the transition after high school.

“Specifically for those students who are not typically college-able, developing key work skills for competitive and customized employment is vital,” she said.

Lydia has been working with Special Education students at State High for over a decade as the Transition Coordinator for the program. “As part of the transition program, we are developing a rotational-transitional-educational scope and sequence,” she explained. “It will introduce students to a variety of workforce employment service training that develops skills across a variety of career areas (i.e. greenhouse and plant care, retail style jobs, building maintenance and custodial skills, hospitality services, bakery/kitchen skills).”

In addition to her heart for helping her students, Lydia has a passion for agriculture that has inspired the latest project to help students transition from high school. “For this grant, we want to focus on building and developing the greenhouse and plant care section of the transition program,” she said.

The grant will go toward building and implementing special raised-bed gardens accessible for students in and out of wheelchairs, as well as purchasing equipment for internal and external plant care. In addition, Lydia envisions the development of an internship focusing on an Herb to Table program.

“This opportunity would allow students the ability to explore career areas, and grow and learn through hands-on learning and activities,” Lydia said. “This project allows students to determine their likes and dislikes and understand the seed-to-table processes and careers that align with each stage of the growth and harvesting process. This also allows for students who are unable to work due to the severity of their disability to gain and develop therapeutic hobbies and increase leisure time activities to work with families and long-term caregivers.”

Programs to assist differently-abled students make the transition to employment is more needed now than ever, as Lydia explained. “Individuals with disabilities have a 17.9 percent employment rate from the Department of Labor and Industry 2020 data, which is a decrease from 19.3 percent in 2019,” she said. “The ratio for employment for people without a disability was 61.8 percent in 2020, down from 66.3 percent in the prior year. Developing these career-focused transition programs at SCASD will help increase the skill development and employ-ability of our students post-high school.”

The greenhouse hopes to break down barriers to student success and create a lasting impact. “This project will also in-crease students’ creativity and their understanding that gardening is not just limited to the ground, but can be mobile and adaptable to various locations and differentiated for individuals
of all abilities and need,” Lydia said.

Photo by Nabil Mark
Essential resources for students experiencing sensory overload

Ferguson Township Elementary School • Sweet Sensory Satisfaction • $270 Awarded

Sensory overload, the fight, flight, or freeze response that many children experience when their senses take in more information than their brain can process, is a growing obstacle for teachers in the classroom setting. “Students in our building are increasingly affected by sensory overstimulation—especially in loud areas,” said Kendyl Wittenrich, Autistic and Emotional Support Teacher at Ferguson Township Elementary. 

“Things like the fun run, concerts, assemblies, and movement breaks are something we want our students to look forward to, though many dread these times because of the loud noise,” she explained.

Even experiences that are essential for student safety can become disruptive. “Students also struggle with fire drills or announcements on the PA system—these are used to keep our students safe and are currently the source of much distress. The purchase of additional sound-canceling headphones will help our students navigate these times,” Kendyl said.

“Students who are experiencing sensory overload are not able to participate in learning activities,” she explained. “Our district has the advantage of being able to offer many hands-on experiences, and in a post-COVID world, trips to provide real-world experiences for our students.”

Noise-canceling headphones are a cost-efficient and effective way to combat the overstimulation of everyday experiences. The grant will purchase 18 sets of these headphones to assist students in distress. Ferguson Township Elementary previously had a few pairs of headphones, but Kendyl saw the need arise as they were unable to support all of their students.

“We currently have 12 students in our school who meet the qualifications for autism—the most common disability affecting students with overstimulation,” said Kendyl.
“However, many other students have other needs for sound-canceling headphones as well. This year alone, I’ve provided them to at least 15 different students.”

As the Autistic and Emotional Support Teacher at Ferguson Township Elementary, Kendyl often receives calls to help students experiencing overstimulation. “I would love to have a pair in each classroom so teachers can provide them more quickly than I am able to once I receive a message regarding a student in distress,” she said.

Preserving 60 years of State High history

State College Area High School Library • Archiving district yearbook collection • $770 Awarded

The State High library boasts an extensive collection of resources for students. Librarian Mark Morath is advocating for the archival of some of the school’s rarest materials—yearbooks spanning 60 years of the school’s history. With the help of a grant, State High will preserve pieces of the school’s past.

“To our knowledge, State High’s library houses the only complete set of yearbooks dating back to 1917,” said Mr. Morath. “We identified 60 of those yearbooks that are either in the process of deteriorating or in danger of falling apart. These books currently sit on shelves in one of the library’s small group instruction rooms without consistent climate control or any purposeful protection.”

Mr. Morath believes in the value of preserving physical materials for future generations. “In the age of digital content, holding history in your hand makes a difference,” said Mr. Morath. “Maintaining a collection of yearbooks goes far beyond the added equity of access for students who don’t have them. The yearbook is a time capsule demonstrating over a century of change in America as reflected in the halls of State High.”

Funded by the grant, Mr. Morath and the staff of the library will archive the books with high-quality materials. “The best way to store these books and to preserve them for future use is to store our best copy of each book from 1917-1977 (60 years in total) in an archival polyester-based locking folder and then place them in a Silversafe, lignin, and acid-free box,” Mr. Morath explained. “Once each book is placed in a locking folder, they will be stored with approximately 3 books per box. The boxes are made of MicroChamber board which is an alkaline buffer. The folders protect the books from each other and ensure that they do not acquire damage that could be caused by moving the boxes.”

“The yearbooks have long sourced inspiration to journalism students and the yearbook club as tangible examples of primary source documents that students can understand. Our concern is that if action is not taken to protect these books, they would be unavailable as an authentic learning experience for our students and as a historical record of our school, district, and community,” he said.

Buddy Art project brings together students of all abilities

Mount Nittany Middle School • Buddy Art • $350 Awarded

At Mount Nittany Middle School, sixth grade art teacher Madison Mock received a grant to bring together students for a collaborative art-making experience. Her “Buddy Art” project allows students in the special education programs to team up with peer buddies to create works of art. Students have opportunities to display their artwork around the school as well as at the annual school-wide art show.

“This project allows special education and general education students to collaborate to create a variety of works of art,” said Madison. “The materials allow students to create paintings on canvas and ceramics and create display-ready works of art with high-quality materials for display.”

“Peer buddies is an excellent opportunity for special education and general education students to work together,” continued Madison. “This project adds value to these peer interactions by providing students with opportunities to work with a greater variety of art materials and create lasting artwork.”

Grant funds provide full EMT certification for up to 5 students

SCHS/CTC • EMT Certification • Dr. Jennifer Reed

Dr. Jennifer Reed, along with other instructors at State High, recognized a need for a number of students to proceed to EMT certification after their CTC coursework. “Students have expressed interest in earning industry credentials and working in the community as health care providers. To do this, they must spend evenings and weekends completing a local intensive EMT training course and pass a national written and hands-on exam,” said Dr. Reed.

While most students are ready to commit extra time to complete the course, the financial burden can weigh on some. “Cost is often a barrier despite the students’ willing-ness to do this training on top of school,” explained Dr. Reed. Grant funds were awarded to support up to five students in completing their EMT certification.

“The grant will go toward juniors and seniors in either the Health Professions or Sports Therapy programs that want to become an EMT to serve the public and accrue required hands-on hours to gain admission down the road to medical school or to physician assistant programs,” said Dr. Reed. “The funds cover the required fees to participate in the course upon them providing evidence of enrollment from Centre Life Link or an area training center licensed to provide the course.”

“There are three HP/STES instructors that have identified at least four students, potentially five that are in progress or planning to begin this program,” said Dr. Reed. Through the grant-supported program, those five students will be entering the workforce upon graduation and making a difference in their community.

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