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Mini-Grants Make Big Impact

When students tune in to the “Knightly News”— a video produced by the Speech and Drama classes at Nipher Middle School in the Kirkwood School District — it’s something that brings all students together to learn about what is going on throughout the school. So when Morgan Clough wanted to add a new segment to the program, it was important to make sure it was something that fit that same spirit of all-school inclusion.

Clough, an SSD teacher at Nipher, developed a plan to incorporate a segment titled “The Knightly Chef Special” in which students of all abilities work together to produce a cooking feature for the program.

The school agreed to the segment, but it was still not possible to produce until Clough was awarded a Dana Brown Teacher Mini-Grant from the Special Education Foundation (SEF).

“The grant has allowed students to contribute to being a Nipher Knight and with their peers to build upon social interaction in a safe place,” Clough said. “Building awareness and teaching acceptance with peers creates adults who are aware and accepting.”

“The Knightly Chef Special” and other projects funded by SEF mini-grants make that goal of awareness and acceptance feasible throughout St. Louis County.

Since 1992, the SEF has played an important role in the lives of students who receive services from SSD. The SEF collaborates with SSD and helps fund and support scholarships, summer camps, arts in the classroom, assistive equipment, a high school leadership program, a parent support group, and a student recognition program.

Recognizing that teachers have the best insights into methods that succeed in helping children learn, the SEF encourages teachers to apply for mini-grants that will bring their creative ideas to the forefront and put them into action.

“The Foundation likes innovative programs that have research behind them,” said Heather Field, a teacher at SSD’s Northview High School and a mini-grant winner. “The programs are meant to start where our normal budget funds stop. So thinking outside the box of what we can foresee to ably provide with building budgets is where the ideas for programs begin.”

Field has helped secure several grants for the speech department at Northview, allowing students to engage in activities that teach life skills, while also incorporating unique or fun activities or technology.

“Students have gained access to technology such as video equipment, iPads and applications,” Field said. “The speech department was able to host a pinewood derby for the whole school as well as sponsor teen-talk groups for students who use augmentative communication devices.”

At Pershing Elementary in the University City School District, the grants have allowed for the purchase of items ranging from learning games and musical instruments to food for cooking projects, said Kea Daniels, a parent of a student who receives services from SSD at the school.

Her child was able to benefit from the mini-grant that funded an interactive program that combined leisure activities and tasty treats to improve student behavior, social skills and communication skills. Sarah Sparwasser, an SSD teacher at Pershing, helped write the grant proposal for the program.

“The grant materials gave students the ability to make choices and communicate with others,” Sparwasser said. “It has allowed them to access materials and experiences they would not have been exposed to without the grant money.”

Without the exceptional partnership with the SEF, these opportunities would not be available to students that receive services from SSD. In 2014, nearly $40,000 was awarded to teachers through mini-grants to benefit students.

arrow icon For more information about the SEF, visit www.sef-stl.org.

Photo of teacher working with student on cooking project funded by Special Education Foundation

SSD occupational therapist Kate Corrigan works with student Jeremy Hampton on a cooking project at Pershing Elementary in the University City School District. Corrigan and SSD teacher Sarah Sparwasser co-wrote and won a Special Education Foundation mini-grant proposal titled “Tasty Tuesdays.”


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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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