Christy Brown and Heather Estep
Americans Helping Americans® Americans Helping Teachers grant recipients Christy Brown and Heather Estep teach at the Washburn School, a Pre K-12, Title 1 school located in the foothills of Clinch Mountain in the rural community of Washburn in Grainger County, Tennessee.
Christy is a 25-year veteran teacher, 14 of those years at Washburn where she has served as a kindergarten, first and second grade teacher who stated in her application with Heather, the school’s special education teacher, that “The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted a real need to support students with less traditional methods and interventions for academics and behavioral needs.
“This need has only increased since the onset of the pandemic,” she said, noting that she plans to use her $4,000 Americans Helping Teachers grant “to create safe spaces where our students at Washburn School can reset, feel safe to express feelings, or take a brain break.
“My kindergarten students are just beginning their educational journey. They sometimes have real feelings and emotions that they need help expressing in positive ways.
“We brainstormed new and innovative ways to meet my kindergarten students’ academic and behavioral needs. We worked together to create a positive space to meet specific needs. Sometimes it included having one-on-one time and intervention in the classroom with limited materials on hand.
“Other times it included walking down the hall or outside so the student(s) could reset and return to class ready to learn. We could imagine a more designated place for this intervention, but with limited resources, we worked with what we had.
“When I learned about the Americans Helping Teachers grant, my mind raced with all the possibilities this grant could provide for my students,” said Christy
Her vision became not just helping her current students, but how a “reset area” could also support the needs of her former students, or for that matter, any student in the school as well who might benefit from “a safe space to reset.”
She then spoke with Heather and presented her with a more schoolwide vision “as she serves many of my former students and others who could benefit, and she was on board with this vision” and together they began researching reset, or relaxation, spaces.
During that research, they learned of many terms like amygdala rest areas, calm down corners, reset stations and relaxation stations.
“No matter the term, we had a vision and goals.”
And those goals included creating designated spaces for students to “retreat and regulate. They will be calm, comfortable spaces” which may include “sensory manipulatives,” a writing space, headphones for listening to music, low lighting, soft colors, weighted items and scented oils.
A second goal is “to impact positive learning experiences. We all have bad days, and students are no exception. Many of our students do not come equipped with the ability to self-regulate.
“When students have access to a space or materials that help them learn to readjust, it can positively impact their trajectory, not just in the classroom, but hopefully in life.”
Renee Foraker and Lauren Sexton
Americans Helping Americans® Americans Helping Teachers grant recipients Renee Foraker and Lauren Sexton are special education teachers at Rush Strong School, a Pre-K through 8th grade school in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, serving students with a wide range of needs and abilities including those experiencing ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), autism, specific learning disabilities in reading or math, those with social or emotional needs, as well as gifted students.
Due to the vast age range and high need, they requested $4,000 in grant funding to establish what are known as “Amygdala Recalibration Stations” to provide a safe and calming space for students.
“Students with behavioral needs would benefit from an area to reset and refocus before entering back into the classroom,” said Renee in their grant application.
“We would like to provide a mental health space, the Amygdala Recalibration Station, for students to do just that.”
She explained that the grant will “help provide students access to an area designed to help them understand how their brain influences their emotions and how to retrain the brain to control their behavior.
“We have used these techniques and lessons, but have not been able to access materials to implement and follow through…this grant will provide the proper materials to have stations throughout our school that can be accessed by all students.
“This space would be used as a proactive measure for students to take a break in their day to retrain their brain and refocus before entering back in the classroom.
“This would reduce distractions in the classroom and allow students a safe space to process and redirect their behavior. Our hope is that this space would improve emotional regulation skills, encourage self-responsibility and provide a safe space.”
Items that would ensure this safe space for learning include beanbags, shaggy carpet, nature photos, calming tools such as squeeze balls, headphones, sachets sprinkled with lavender oil, posters of calming activities and dim lighting.
“Students will learn to advocate for themselves and use regulation skills to learn from mistakes. Teaching self-regulation skills and providing students with a space to refocus will improve their overall mental health.”
Sarah Jo Jones, Christy Williams, Jessica Vaughn
Americans Helping Americans® Americans Helping Teachers grant recipients Sarah Jo Jones, Christy Williams and Jessica Vaughn are teachers at Carroll County High School in Hillsville, Virginia, who reported that during the 2021-2022 school year teachers at the school observed a decrease in the social/emotional intelligence of their students.
“Maturity and behavior problems were a major obstacle and created chaotic learning environments,” they stated in their grant application. “Our staff also reported an increase in their own stress levels trying to navigate the ‘new normal’ created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Sarah Jo is a horticulture teacher and Future Farmers of America sponsor, Christy is a Skills USA advisor, club sponsor and drafting teacher and Jessica is a nursing teacher and Health Occupations Students of America sponsor who have teamed up to address the needs of students post-pandemic.
To alleviate some of the stress and provide support for students, the faculty formed a school spirit and moral committee called “WOW” with the purpose of providing fun activities for students, support for staff and creating a safe environment for all.
In addition, the school sponsors an “Acts of Kindness” club for students with the goal of creating a safe, kind and inclusive environment for all students.
Sarah Jo’s, Christy’s and Jessica’s project is to have the school’s Career and Technical Education students and student clubs work collaboratively to create two outdoor learning environments: a Zen Garden and an outdoor classroom.
They will be using their $4,000 grant to purchase building materials, plants and seeds, garden décor and stone.
“Our goals are to create a Zen Garden that will provide an atmosphere of calmness and serenity for all staff and students at Carroll County High School or members of the community who might want to spend time there,” they told us, as well as to “build an outdoor classroom with adaptable seating for students and teachers.
“Both of these spaces will provide continual learning opportunities for students in horticulture and building trades as they maintain these spaces after installation.”
Science, nursing and horticulture students will use the spaces to learn/teach the health benefits of gardening through producing your own food to both students and members of the community through community outreach. Natural resources and biotechnology students will be able to conduct research experiments on plants and insects that inhabit these spaces.
The Zen Garden and outdoor classroom will also provide a sensory and handicap-accessible space for students with special needs and intellectual disabilities, and they anticipate an annual impact of at least 1,000 students and hope to complete the initial installation by next May.
“This will be an ongoing project that can be added to and built upon with each new group of students. Our goal is to expand and improve on these spaces for years to come.”
Americans Helping Americans® Americans Helping Teachers grant recipient Destiny Ramey is an 8th grade general science teacher and a 10th grade biology teacher at Lee County Middle High School in Beattyville, Kentucky, who faced challenges as a child growing up.
“A time when most kids could be young and simply be a kid, I had to learn to be independent and take care of myself and help take care of my little sister while my mom worked 12-hour night shifts, and had to rest during the day,” she told us in her grant application.
But, she added, “I went from being a nobody to being someone who made it through a full-time job while going to school full-time, and completing an associate, bachelors, and two master’s degrees” which in large part inspired her to become a teacher.
“Therefore, the whole purpose of me becoming a teacher is to help any student who feels like they are stuck in certain circumstances and cannot overcome them.
“I wanted to be the person that showed them that they truly can accomplish anything they want to in life, and they can break any toxic cycle from their childhood that they feel like is holding them back.”
At LCMHS, some of the challenges faced by the rural Kentucky school “is the lack of funding to fully support every department in the building” which is why she sought the $5,000 grant for her students.
“Teaching biology requires a lot of patience, and projects,” says Destiny. “I struggled getting the supplies I would love to get my students in order to do projects because of the funding.”
One thing in particular she especially wanted to be able to offer her science students was to be able to purchase dissecting equipment and “proper animals to dissect” which include frogs or dogfish sharks.
“They’ve not done a dissection here at the school in a long time, so I think it’s important to bring this particular lesson back for students to learn anatomy, physiology, and to try something new.”
She told us “I would love to be able to let my students truly enjoy Science/Biology without having to stress about how I’m going to get them the supplies.
“I simply cannot afford it myself, so if the school doesn’t have funding, then I cannot do any of the projects that I have in mind.”
This school year, with her grant funding in hand, she will be ordering that dissecting equipment and supplies, saying “I think the kids would love to learn about anatomy up close and personal. It would also get them out of their comfort zone.”
She also plans to use a portion of the grant funding to purchase equipment for her 8th-grade science students to “do fun chemistry lab experiments saying, “I think chemistry is more interesting when the students can actually do the experiments themselves.”
In addition, another goal is to host a field trip for her students to visit a nearby reptile zoo “or maybe start a honeybee garden” at the school.
“This grant will give me the money to make that possible…the possibilities are endless.”