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Amplify GR funds underserved schools

Scholar Strong mini-grant program assists teachers by covering costs of supplies for instructional projects.

August 2, 2019
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Students at Hope Academy use Makerspace kits to experiment with science, engineering and art projects. Courtesy Amplify GR

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Students in underserved southeast Grand Rapids schools got to take part in new experiential classroom activities last year.

Amplify GR completed the first year of its Scholar Strong mini-grant program, meant to fund instructional projects in the classroom that otherwise would not be possible.

The Scholar Strong program also seeks to assist teachers by providing resources that reduce the financial burden many feel by having to purchase supplies for their classrooms. Because supplies are purchased with money from teachers’ pockets, many creative projects often are out of the question.

“The Scholar Strong mini-grants gave our staff the opportunity to finance projects we’ve dreamed of implementing but didn’t have funding for previously,” Dickinson Elementary School teacher Heather Quamme said.

Through the program, 23 teachers at Dickinson Elementary School, Hope Academy of West Michigan and River City Scholars Charter Academy won grants for up to $500 for classroom projects and learning activities revolving around STEAM, literacy, college and career readiness, and leadership development.

These teachers’ students — who all qualify for free or reduced lunch — gained experiences through projects such as a STEAM workshop, student-led community gardens and off-site learning experiences, including a prey-and-predator simulation at Blandford Nature Center and visits to the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

“What we saw from this initiative is when we invest these monies, the passion of teachers comes alive because they now can think out of the box in terms of activities and experiences that they want to provide their students,” said Ashanti Bryant, Amplify GR education director. “But also, the students, they demonstrate real potential. They just need the opportunity.”

A couple of classrooms purchased Makerspace kits, which include hands-on tools that allow kids to experiment with science, engineering and art projects. 

“We know in the 21st century, young people need the opportunity to innovate and create because even the jobs of the future are going to be jobs that will call upon those skills,” Bryant said.

Students at River City Scholars tested water quality at the local water processing plant. A hands-on activity like this takes learning to the next step because it goes beyond simply hearing about it to actually doing it, he said.

Next academic year, Bryant said Amplify GR plans to disperse 20-25 mini-grants to the classrooms at the three schools.

The three schools involved lie within the neighborhood that Amplify GR serves, working to expand overall economic vitality through strengthening opportunities for employment, housing, education and community.

Ashanti said Amplify GR is welcoming donations from individuals and business who want to help.

“A business could donate $500, and that can create an experience for students that is completely transformational for their learning.”

In addition to the Scholar Strong program, Amplify GR recently partnered with the World Literacy Foundation to provide local elementary students up to five books to take home on World Book Day.

This summer, the organization is rolling out additional education-based programming in conjunction with community partners to help reduce summer learning loss.

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