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Seven SSD Teachers Awarded Grants from Missouri Retired Teachers Foundation

August 30, 2021 - A total of seven SSD teachers and support personnel have been awarded grants from Missouri Retired Teachers Foundation (MRTF). MRTF is a not-for-profit organization devoted to raising funds to award grants to active teachers to enhance their classroom instruction, among other things. Last year, almost 100 grants were awarded to teachers across Missouri.

SSD’s winners represent the vastness of the District, including educators at an SSD special education school and a technical high school, along with several winners from partner districts. 

Congratulations to all on receiving their grants! 


Emily Berger, 2021 MRTF Grant WinnerEmily Beger, Special Education Teacher at Robinwood Elementary in Ferguson-Florissant School District

Beger was awarded a $500 grant which will go towards the purchase of books. In her application, Beger cites that according to the article Diversity in Children’s Literature: Check Your Blind Spot, “Kids of color need diverse books because so often they do not see themselves in literature, and therefore feel marginalized, even invisible.”

“Working in a district that is predominantly black, I have noticed that the school does not have many books that include students of color or disabilities,” said Beger. “This project will help show students of varying backgrounds representation.” She aims to make her school and more inclusive place for all people, no matter their race or disability.


Traci Broeker, 2021 MRTF Grant WinnerTraci Broeker, Speech-Language Pathologist at Fairview Elementary in Jennings School District

Broeker was awarded a total of $500 that will be used for the purchase of an augmentative communication device for use by students in her early childhood special education classroom. Broeker’s students have varying verbal abilities and are primarily non-readers due to their age. Many of her students require a voice-output system to effectively communicate with their teachers and peers. The device will be programmed with content, including vocabulary, to help them express their wants and needs, make requests, answer questions, identify thematic/core and pre-academic vocabulary, and make social comments in various contexts.

“My students, colleagues, and I are so grateful to the Missouri Retired Teachers Foundation for this generous gift,” said Broeker. “We will use it daily to enhance students' communication and, therefore, enrich the lives of our deserving students in the Jennings School District.


Stephanie Fox, 2021 MRTF Grant WinnerStephanie Fox, Special Education Teacher at Pattonville Heights Middle School in Pattonville School District

Fox was awarded a $500 grant that will be used to create a social skills sensory area. “I want my students to have a place to go when they are emotionally dysregulated, as well as provide them with an area to implement both social and emotional skill strategies that they have learned in my class,” said Fox. “I really appreciate MRTF for this opportunity to develop my classroom space!”

The social skills sensory area will have flexible seating with a variety of sensory supports, like play-doh, a sound machine, weighted blankets, pillows, textured items, manipulatives, and calm lighting. Students will be encouraged to head to the sensory area to help with emotional dysregulation. Visual posters will display calming strategies and expectations for using the area. 


Alana Gaspard-Power, 2021 MRTF Grant WinnerAlana Gaspard-Powers, Special Education Teacher at Valley Park High School in Valley Park School District

Alana Gaspard-Powers and Gerri Robards, Valley Park physical science teachers, were awarded $500 for their Science Citizen Project, which will be implemented in their co-taught physical science classroom. The funds will be used to purchase online curricular STEM resources and a water monitoring kit.

“The focus of this project is to explore ways to reduce our school’s ecological footprint and actively examine water health in our community,” said Gaspard-Powers. “The students will gather data in the field - outside the classroom - in the form of an Eco-Waste Audit and test water samples in and around the school.”


Chris Jaycox, 2021 MRTF Grant WinnerChris Jaycox, Special Education Teacher at Ackerman School

Jaycox was awarded a $115.97 grant that will be used to purchase books and affiliated stuffed toys for Jaycox’s classroom. The book series chosen highlights various components of social-emotional education. “The Bad Seed series has an important message for school children and adults alike,” said Jaycox. “The book weaves a serious message about the danger of judging others without understanding the full background of an individual. It also sends the message of overcoming one’s past and moving forward in a positive direction.” The characters in the books highlight areas of self-acceptance, self-care, self-esteem, self-management, and teamwork.

Jaycox has planned on a variety of activities centered on developing the skills within the series. While some students may find reading the book together therapeutic, he knows that’s not the best method for all students, especially those whose strengths aren’t as verbal or whose minds aren’t as metaphorically inclined. “For them, I created some more directed activities: Small group processing ‘seed’ cards, a craft activity, and four different worksheets that cover self-talk, finding the good in situations, self-concept, and people’s ability to change.”


April Rainwater, 2021 MRTF Grant WinnerApril Rainwater, Special Education Teacher at Holman Middle School in Pattonville School District

Rainwater was awarded a $500 grant, which will be used to purchase an Oculus Quest 2 headset, a virtual reality (VR) system, and social-emotional applications to use with the system. “My students view VR films and engage in VR simulations, which help my students develop perspective-taking skills, relationship skills, self-management, and social awareness,” said Rainwater. “Some of the apps allow students to feel stress, anxiety, elevated heart rate, and more.”

Rainwater plans on tracking two goals while her students use the headset: how students meet their social-emotional IEP goals using the VR simulations and using the VR system to regulate emotions and talk through possibilities if the situation arises again.


Kelsey Steffen, 2021 MRTF GRANT WINNERKelsey Steffen, Vocational Skills Teacher at North Tech

Steffen will use her $500 grant for the Vocation Skills Program (VSP) students at North Tech High School. The VSP students will be creating birthday bags for the 600 students at North Tech. “This will allow the students in the VSP to practice following multi-step directions while fostering a positive school climate,” said Steffen. The students will also design an interactive bulletin board on job skills at North Tech. The board will share information on employability skills for all students to see. Students will then be able to submit videos, pictures, or written comments if they found the employability skill for that month helpful.