For teachers, particularly those working in hard-pressed Appalachian communities where their school districts struggle to fund even their core educational priorities, it is frustrating for them to be aware of classroom needs that would greatly benefit their students but are being unmet.
In many cases, dedicated teachers pull funds from their pockets for school supplies for their students whose parents cannot afford to do so.
In other instances, teachers see needs that would benefit not only the students in their classrooms but also their school’s entire student body. The only impediment to implementing them is the cost.
That’s why for the 2022-2023 academic year, Americans Helping Amercans® initiated our Americans Helping Teachers program to provide teachers and other educators with grants to meet unaddressed and unfunded classroom and school needs.
This year, for 2023-2024, Americans Helping Americans® awarded two teachers in Appalachia with $4,000 grants each to enhance the educational experience for the students attending the schools where they teach.
In Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, Kelli Smith is a special education teacher at Rush Strong School who requested a grant of $4,000 for her project “Creating Life Skills Opportunities for CDC (Comprehensive Development Classrooms) Students.
“My students work hard to overcome challenges that many other students are not faced with,” Kelli had told us in her grant request last summer.
“Around half of the class is faced with a challenging home life. In the past, the CDC class had been in the back of the school and kept to themselves. Recently, we have worked very hard on including our CDC class into the general population.”
Her dream was to provide students in her class with the opportunity to develop life skills by operating a class coffee cart for the teachers in the school (while also generating funds from the proceeds). Kelli reported this month that the students raised $223.55 “that goes back into the program!”
Through the provision of a coffee cart for staff members each Friday, Kelli told us the experience allowed her students to practice “real-world job skills,” such as how to take an order, process the order, count money, and make the correct change, and “interacting appropriately and professionally.”
Another purpose for the grant funding she received was for her students to be able to plan a wonderful Thanksgiving feast for their peer tutors and teachers, shop for the ingredients for the meal, and even cook it “as a way to show appreciation for their help.”
Kelli explained that preparing a holiday meal would teach them how to plan and budget for such a large meal, utilize and enhance their cooking skills, practice the social skills that come with being a host, and even learn independence.
The remaining funds were used to purchase snacks for her CDC students, which “allows students to have food security and not face hunger” and also allows them to “take a small break to practice calming strategies.
“The goal for this program is to foster friendships and foster an environment and culture where special education students become seen as just students, rather than as students in a special class.”
In Tionesta, Pennsylvania, Lisa Banner is a teacher in the Forest Area School District with just two PK-12 schools serving 400 students in the only Appalachian county in the state considered to be “distressed” by the Appalachian Regional Commission is using her grant to help purchase a school therapy dog.
“In our post-COVID world, students’ mental health is a heightened priority,” said Lisa in her grant request. “Students missed a couple of years’ worth of social interaction, which has had a definite effect on their development and impacted their behaviors in the classroom. We have witnessed an increase in elementary and high school students having trouble expressing their anxieties and frustrations.
“The purchase and implementation of a therapy dog in daily school life would be an amazing addition to our tool kit for mental health.”
Lisa reported recently that with the grant funding from Americans Helping Americans® the school district has acquired “Sasha,” a 3-month-old Golden Retriever puppy.
“They started training last month, working on commands and letting the dog walk through the halls,” Lisa told us. “Students are quickly returning their permission slips for interacting with Sasha.
“Everyone is excited waiting for the dog to work full time to help the student’s behavior, attendance, and general morale.”