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Education grant helps teachers bring lessons to life

A teacher assists two young students

University of Phoenix education alumni receive grants to defray out-of-pocket costs

For middle school science teacher Thomas Lee, receiving a STARS grant from University of Phoenix meant he could purchase squid-dissection kits and related safety equipment for his classroom for the first time ever.

“Many of my students had never dissected anything before and truly enjoyed the experience,” says Lee, a graduate of the University of Phoenix College of Education. “It is my belief that hands-on science is the best and most memorable way to learn.”

University of Phoenix created the Supplies for Teacher Alumni and Resources for Students (STARS) program, to help its alumni purchase the tools and resources they need for their classrooms. Teachers submit applications detailing how they would use the funds, and the University makes award decisions based on merit. This year, a total of $31,500 in grant money was awarded to 61 Bay Area teachers ($500 apiece) who hold Master of Arts in Education degrees from the University.

Sara Mendoza, MAED/TED, is a Bay Area elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten and first grade for five years. She says she learned about the STARS grants program via an alumni newsletter. “I figured any little bit of money would help my class,” she says.

The STARS grant allow teachers to continue to teach in fun and exciting ways without the worry of major expenses.

Mendoza applied for and received a grant to help purchase Zoo-phonics, an educational flashcard game for early reading education that helps young students learn letters and sounds. She used the flashcards in her kindergarten class last year, and continues to use them with her first graders this year. “I saw the impact on the students [right away],” she says. “Students who could not recognize a letter were soon able to recognize letters and sounds and improve on their reading and writing.”

STARS puts basic teacher supplies within reach

While school supplies like pens and paper aren’t as exciting as dissection kits, they’re sometimes needed most. “I work one-on-one with students who have learning disabilities,” says Special Education Resource Specialist Todd Stengel. “A lot of my students have trouble even keeping track of their basic school supplies, so I help provide basic materials like pens and paper just so they can function.”

And to help his students become more comfortable with technology, Stengel also used STARS funds to purchase MacSpeech Dictate (speech-recognition software) for the classroom computer. “Students speak into a headset to dictate words and punctuation into the program, which converts it to word processing on the page,” Stengel explains. “It really helps my students with their writing. I had 13 students go from not writing at all to getting excited about journaling every day via the software.”

To keep things fun, Stengel incentivizes his students by organizing classroom lunch parties and trips to In-N-Out Burger — activities Stengel used to have to pay for out of his own pocket before the STARS grant.

The grant program is a lifeline for teachers, says Thomas Lee. “With all the cuts in education, the STARS grants allow teachers to continue to teach in fun and exciting ways without the worry of major expenses.”

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