Teacher Initiative Grant Applications and Teacher Research Applications are sent out to teachers in early January. Applications are reviewed by a committee of teachers, administrators and the Foundation's co-chairs and then rated according to a set of criteria.
Specifically, the committee looks for projects that show initiative, can be replicated by others, have long term impact on the educational program, and provide differentiated experiences for children. The committee also considers evidence of long-term benefits for the schools, clear purpose for funding use, focused methodology, and meaningful results measurement.
Finally, the committee meets again to make final decisions. Grants are usually awarded by the end of April and recipients have two school years within which to complete their projects and assess results.
In a District 36 teacher's own words, here is one story of how a single Winnetka Public Schools Foundation Teacher Initiative Grant became an important tool used in multiple subject areas across several grade levels:
The Froebel Gifts: A Gift that Keeps on Giving
by Stacey Wellman, teacher, Greeley School
We are so fortunate to be able to work in a district where new ideas are celebrated and embraced. The Winnetka Public Schools Foundation is such a huge part of the support network necessary to allow innovative teaching and learning to occur. It allows us to enrich the curriculum in ways that we never thought possible. In 2007, the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation stepped forward to support the Froebel Gift project. In addition to purchasing the materials for each of the grade schools, a group of representatives from all of the elementary buildings was able to travel together to learn from Dr. Barbara Corbett, one of the leading experts in Froebel Gift play. We returned with ideas and enthusiasm. The materials and experience given to us by the Foundation allowed a seed to be planted in the Winnetka Public Schools; how it would grow and develop was yet to be seen, but the trust was there.
Several years later, the Froebel Gift project continues to expand and transform teaching and learning. The art of story is understood and practiced through Froebel storytelling circles. Social-emotional objectives are achieved through the collaborative nature of gift play. The interconnectedness of nature is uncovered through Froebel Gift exploration, while mathematical formulas and terminology, as well as scientific principles, are discovered and understood with every gift play experience. Each year, the Froebel Gifts are being integrated into more curriculum instruction across grade levels, including the winter bird unit in kindergarten, the Arctic study in first grade, architecture and constellations in second grade, Native American stories in third, and the Long Road to Freedom unit in fourth grade. The Froebel gifts have been used in research projects, as well as the Kindergarten assessment process. We have shared our understanding of the Froebel Gifts with teachers and administrators across the district, as well as with our extended educational community at the Progressive Education Network Conference. This summer, the use of the Froebel Gifts in the Winnetka Public Schools will be highlighted at the National Froebel Education Conference. It was the belief of the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation that a series of geometric forms could promote higher-level learning that gave the Froebel Gift Project form. It has allowed educators within the school system to learn and collaborate together, as well as connect with other teachers who share a similar philosophy of teaching. The Froebel Gifts unlock passions and instill insight. It is a tool that continues to grow and give to our community of learners, and we thank the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation for all they have given us.