Foundation Grants Will Benefit Hundreds of Local Students

December 20, 2023

Hundreds of students in the Bedford Public Schools will benefit from the $8,600 in funds awarded by the Bedford Education Foundation (BEF) through its most recent cycle of grants.

The foundation, according to its mission statement, “promotes classroom innovation and empowers teachers and students to meet the growing challenges of the 21st century,” through grants to classroom teachers and school administrators, and collaboration with other school organizations.

The largest grant in the cycle, totaling $2,5000, will cover the cost of taking the entire eighth grade to a May performance of “Romeo and Juliet” by Actors’ Shakespeare Project at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End.

The field trip will take place after the John Glenn Middle School students have started reading the play, said English teacher Denise Breakall, who successfully applied for the grant with her colleague, Kelsey Little.

Also, the BEF awarded $2,375 to the district’s speech/language pathologists for five new iPads to support the SAIL program. 

There are actually two SAIL formats. One, covering preschool through eighth grade, serves students with disabilities primarily through “highly structured, individualized programming.” The other program called SAIL 2, which extends through high school, is more of an inclusion model. Related services for both include speech/language therapy.

Nadia Trant, a speech/language pathologist in the local schools since 2006, successfully applied for the grant with her colleague Ashley Utrup. Trant explained, “Most of the student are on the autism spectrum or with neurological disorders, and “they have kinds of issues where they can’t access their voices clearly. 

“Alternative and augmentative communication can be as simple as picture exchange, but the majority of our children use some kind of technological program that gives them a much wider array of opportunities.” These speech-generating devices feature specific applications used to communicate. 

Trant said the five speech/language pathologists agreed there was a need for “a device totally dedicated to our particular students in SAIL 1, the students who have more intensive needs.” Using the new dedicated iPads, she said, the speech/language pathologists can “model” for the students using the same programs that are on the student devices. 

“It’s important to give them the opportunity to communicate,” she said of the students, adding that “we encourage parents to have them use the devices at home.” The new iPads will also serve as backups, she said.

The five new iPads have been ordered and Trant said the staff hopes they are ready to use in January.

Alison Connelly, Bedford High School teacher-librarian, successfully sought $1,090 to update and augment the graphic novel collection.

The graphic novel format is “very helpful for kids who are reluctant readers, who may not be comfortable picking up a full-text traditional book. Yet they have a lot of the same advantages,” Connelly observed. “There is still a lot of text, a lot of thought and character development, a lot of the advantages you get from traditional novels. They’re engaging and help build visual skills.

“Some people say kids today are more visual learners. The most important thing is that we get kids reading,” she continued. “The graphic novels are engaging kids in literature and getting lost in a story.” She added that “decoding and analyzing and comprehension are all involved, and the vocabulary in the storyline is more sophisticated than what you would think.”

Connelly noted that despite the name of the genre, not all of the selections are novels. For example, some people find it easier to understand a play by Shakespeare with illustrations. In any case, “the storylines are sophisticated and it’s not like picking up a book for a little kid.”

The teacher-librarian noted that graphic novels are more expensive than traditional books, primarily because of the use of color illustrations.

Other BEF grants were awarded to:

  • Jaclyn Bentinck-Smith, instructional coach at Davis School, $1,050 for reusable materials students can use in learning engineering design.
  • Elizabeth Billouin, science teacher at Bedford High School, $625 to build a hydroponics growing system with the Horticulture Club. According to the BEF, the soilless growing system will produce food for cafeterias in the four schools and will be incorporated into three science curricula.
  • Jennifer Ferrari, visual art teacher at Lane School, $480 for 26 pairs of noise-reduction earmuffs, available to students who find the environment in the art studio overstimulating.
  • Lane School teacher Kathryn O’Brien, $365 for new decodable texts to help students entering third grade who are reading below grade level.
  • Fourth grade teacher Katie Curran, $170 for creating a “calming corner” in her Lane classroom, featuring equipment to support multi-sensory learning.

BEF, now in its 16th year, has awarded more than $325,000 for creative and innovative projects.

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