Women posing and smiling for the camera
Teachers (left to right) Becky Miller, Ingrid Portier, Pam Willard and Sherri Ferrara combined to bring $9,000 in grants to Edge Elementary for a variety of projects.

Four Edge Elementary School teachers earned more than $9,000 for several needs in their school. The school announced they received grants from Costa McDonalds, the Okaloosa Schools Foundation and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Gulf Coast Chapter ACCEL Grant. The needs met by the grants span sensory learning needs to STEM education. 

“It’s an honor to serve them and support the in this initiative,” said Edge Elementary School’s Principal Melissa Kearley of the teachers, “you can tell from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade, they pour their heart and souls into what they are doing in the classroom.”

The four teachers applied for a total of four grants (two teachers teamed up for one grant and another wrote two grants) that totalled $9,000 for the school.

What Will the Grants Fund?

The teachers grants will fund the purchase of software, hardware and refurbishments inside of the school – as well as learning materials for outside the classroom as well. Here’s where the money will go.

Grant 1 - Calming Corners - $500

When Edge second grade teacher Ingrid Portier worked in a Pre-K classroom in the Miami area she came across a program to manage difficult student emotions called Postive Behavioral Intervention Support (PBIS). Essentially, PBIS has children go to a ‘safe space’ away from other students and activities and cool down when they experience frustration, anger or other emotions, which aren’t exactly easy to process for a young child. Once the child is in the space and has had a minute to cool off, the teacher can re-engage the student and model positive behavior to them as well as talk through situations that might have taken place.


“I didn’t think it would work for second graders,” Portier remembers, “but I still implemented the program into my classroom last year. And it worked!” Portier says her success with the program last year inspired her to export it to other classrooms in the school. She had a receptive ally in Principal Kearley. “Consistency throughout all grade levels is what’s going to show that it’s most effective,” Portier said. 


The program will get phased in from youngest classrooms to oldest over the next two to three years, beginning with the deployment of sensory boxes to classrooms. The boxes will have books, puppets and other items which can help students understand, control and express their emotions in a healthy way going forward. 


The program will also loop in parents to reinforce the behavioral learning they are getting in school. Costa McDonalds sponsored this grant.

Grant 2 - Materials for Science Learning In Class - $1,000

Pam Williard is the veteran grant writer of the teachers who submitted grants from Edge Elementary this year. Willard wrote a total of two grants this year. This grant pairs with a winning grant she wrote last year which purchased science textbooks for Kindergartners. This year’s grant, for a similar amount, would allow the school to buy materials which go with the books from last year’s grant. The materials purchased, which are various and teach students about several different subject matter, can get multiple reuses over the next couple of years. 


“I believe highly in hands-on learning,” Willard said, “[students] learn by doing and seeing it over and over – really what scientists do as well. They test over and over, they are looking to see any discrepencies in their data. You can teach kindergarteners to do the same thing.”

Grant 3 - Materials for Science Learning at Home - $2,400

Willard’s second grant, which was approved by the Okaloosa Schools Foundation, will provide money for take-home science kits for students at Edge. The kits will vary in topic; allow the children to keep them once they are done for re-use. “Science is, of course, one of those areas that we don’t always have enough people going into that field, so maybe [the program] will encourage [students] to go that way,” Willard said. 


The materials will work to involve parents in the learning that takes place. Family involvement, Willard hopes, will lead to more learning that sticks in a child’s brain. “I hope to get families to understand that [science learning] really can just be every day. You can walk out the front door of your house and involve yourself in science learning. Sometimes, we all forget that. I’m hoping to remind [families] that you just going somewhere and walking and talking about things can be a science experience.”

Grant 4 - Ipads for Robotic Finch Programming - $5,600

Before this year, Sherri Ferrara hadn’t written a grant before. The fifth-grade teacher teaches a robotics club using small bird-like robots that kids can program to sing and dance. The birds were being programmed by laptops that didn’t sync well with the robots, so they would not work despite the children programming the robots correctly, they would not work. A pretty frustrating experience for a 30-year-old journalist, not to mention a hard-working 11-year-old. But, Sherri noticed that a teacher with an Ipad wasn’t having any problems uploading the code to the bird – in fact, it synced to the robot without wires at all and performed well. 

This realization led to Ferrara’s decision to write a grant with fellow teacher Becky Miller for Ipads to replace the old computers. Miller believes the grant allows Edge Elementary to contribute to Okaloosa County School District’s overall goal of increasing CTE education for students. They believe clubs in elementary schools like this will create a longer pipeline through the school system to create STEM-focused graduates. This will “lead these kids to realize their future jobs may not be something already in existence,” Miller said, “So, if we are teaching them all along the way how to code and how to become creative problem solvers, then we can lead them down a path that maybe one day will allow them to be inventors later.”

Here’s Why You (Yes, You) Should Apply For A Grant For Your Classroom

A grant is essentially money that someone or some organization wants to give to a deserving person or organization with a good idea. These granting people or organizations typically do this as a way to give back to the community. That means they are looking for you and your ideas so that they can fund them. The Edge teachers who applied for this year’s grants gave these tips for applying for grants. 

  1. Just do it. 
  2. “Go find someone else who has done one and pick their brain,” says Sherri Ferrara. 
  3. “Be willing to jump in and try it,” Becky Miller says, “You don’t know if it’s going to be a yes or a no until you try.”
  4. “Make sure you have an end goal in mind,” Pam Willard told me. She said it’s imperative that you have an end goal in mind and metrics that will grade the performance of the project you wish to attempt. “What do you want to have to happen if this grant is approved? Then just go backward from there,” Willard added. Know what you will need to make the project happen, how much it is going to cost you, and whether or not the age group you want to reach will learn something and be interested in what you are doing. “Make sure that you’re thinking of the end goal along the way. That’s the main thing.”
  5. Start small and build up for bigger grants based on the success record of smaller grants. “The Foundation grant was $2,400. Sounds like a lot of money, but when you start spreading it amongst six classes, with 15 kids each is you know, it’s doesn’t go as far,” Willard said, “and I’m actually learning something I’m learning that well, while I tried to spread the wealth, I should have started smaller, but it’s okay. I’m working on budgeting. And I’m learning something too.
  6. Write grants in tandem with other teachers and submit separate proposals for similar (but not identical) ideas, so you can maximize the amount of money you bring in for the program. As the programs grow, their objectives may merge – and you’ll have more money to change more students’ lives.

Next Grants Up

The group of teachers has already set their sights on another grant application for next year – an outdoor classroom that will use some green space on the side of the school. They want to purchase outdoor tables, add whiteboards on the fence, potted plants, and an area to perform science projects. The idea is that a teacher could schedule the room for the day and teach outside.

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