Coeur d’Alene High School teacher Dave Rodriguez thinks big.
He doesn’t want his science students simply to repeat experiments that others have done a jillion times. He envisions their names in scientific journals.
“My dream is to get some students published,” he said at noon Monday as he sat surrounded by his classroom’s plants and snakes.
Come evening, he and 27 other Coeur d’Alene public school teachers were a step closer to their dreams. They were honored as recipients of the 1995 Excel Foundation awards.
For 10 years, the private foundation has scoured the community for contributions. It gives away money each fall so students can use equipment and materials they wouldn’t have otherwise.
But first, teachers must apply for the grants.
Rodriguez and Carol McCarty, who teaches science at Lake City High, have made a successful habit of that. This year, they applied together and got the largest of 26 awards. They’ll share $7,362 to buy a computer for their classrooms.
Rodriguez plans to link students via the Internet to a biotechnology lab at Eastern Washington University and to a genetics researcher at the University of Idaho.
He and McCarty also can link students in their two classrooms. They can attach their computers to TV screens so everyone can take part.
The computers also will put a new spin on traditional science lessons. Students reluctant to kill an animal still can learn what it’s like to peer inside of a frog. All they need is the right software.
“A lot of kids don’t like to do dissection anymore, and I understand that,” McCarty said.
At the end of the school year, Excel winners must write an evaluation of their award projects. Candy Comer, who has served nine years on the Excel appropriations committee, is looking forward to seeing what McCarty and Rodriguez accomplish.
“That’s going to be an awesome grant,” she said.
More teachers than ever are asking Excel to purchase high-tech gadgets. But grants don’t have to be big to be effective, McCarty said. A $300 aquarium setup, purchased several years ago with Excel money, has helped McCarty’s students get excited about reproduction because they could watch fish eggs hatch.
The 1995 awards include $236 for Paula Marano, who will buy subscriptions to Scholastic News Magazine for her Ramsey Elementary third-graders. Jean Ter Hark, who teaches at Borah and Bryan elementaries, gets $412 to buy drums so she can teach musical rhythm and Native American history.
There were 42 grant requests, seeking $73,501. About $38,500 is being distributed, Comer said.
“Last year we had 65 grant requests, for over $150,000,” Comer said.Language arts teachers made the
most of requests early in Excel’s history, but that’s changing.
“Excel has funded must of the elementary schools with writing centers,” Comer said. “Now, math is really coming on strong. They’re bringing math into the computer age.”
It takes time to write grant requests, which often eats into a teacher’s summer free time. But McCarty and Rodriguez both expressed surprise that more teachers don’t apply.
Rodriguez noted he got a microscope with Excel money that he couldn’t have afforded to buy, even if he had saved his entire equipment budget for 10 years.
“The Excel Foundation - I can’t say enough about them,” he said. “That kind of opportunity and that kind of community support is phenomenal.”
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