For a teacher in the classroom to discover that they have extra funds that they can spend to help grow their programs is quite the blessing. And, when an organization wants to give them money, a lot of money, dreams can be fulfilled. Two Denison ISD teachers recently received community grants that will help fund ideas that will give their students opportunities that might not have been otherwise realized.
After submitting grant applications, Lamar Elementary teacher Kenna Brandt and Hyde Park Elementary teacher Pam Bellermen were pleasantly surprised when Simmons Bank executives Jared Johnson and Randy Hensarling showed up with a crew of people and a couple of large checks to present as a part of the Simmons First Foundation educational grant program. The Simmons Bank First Foundation supports youth access to healthcare and education, while aiding low to moderate income families through the bank’s six-state footprint. The Simmons First Foundation was established in 2013 to help give back to the communities that have been so vital to their continuing growth and success. Former Simmons CEO Tommy May heads up the foundation and guides its mission to build stronger and more vibrant communities for the future. First and foremost, the foundation aims to improve the lives of children through programs that enhance education and healthcare.
“Simmons Bank is committed to giving back to the communities that we serve in meaningful ways and we are proud to partner with Denison ISD on these two impressive projects. I am excited to see how these innovative initiatives will have an immediate impact on the education of our children both now and many years to come,” said Johnson, who is the Simmons Bank Community Market President.
Denison ISD appreciates Simmons Bank and the many various community partners that contribute in a multitude of ways, with both financial support and corporate volunteers for events, to continuously improve the educational opportunities and the culture in Denison schools.
“The community partnerships that we have here are special. We believe it's unique to Denison and we don't take this for granted,” said Denison ISD Superintendent of Schools, Dr. David Kirkbride. “We appreciate all the support our schools, our students, and our teachers receive.”
The plan for the grant funds at Lamar Elementary is to add a book vending machine to the campus. The Bookworm Vending Machine program works by rewarding students with a golden token for good behavior, good grades, and good attendance. They can then use their token to choose their favorite books from the book vending machine. Studies show that when children are good readers, they become good speakers and good writers. Brandt says in her grant request that the mission at Lamar is to find new ways to bring excitement to their students to have the desire to read. Teachers want to show students that reading will reward them with increased comprehension, fluency, and support for their decoding skills. The book vending machine will include a variety of literary genres and reading ability levels for students to choose from.
“This means a lot to us. The kids are going to be so excited. We've kind of tried to keep it a secret because we didn't want to disappoint them if we didn’t get the grant. The teachers are going to be very excited. We’re always trying to think of new and creative ways to help our students in any way that we can. I don't just write grants for myself. I always try to think about what our whole school can benefit from. And this is definitely going to be that for sure. We appreciate the foundation,” Brandt said.
In a new courtyard area at Hyde Park Elementary that is currently a blank slate, Bellerman, a reading interventionist, imagines an outdoor learning lab where young children can freely and safely run barefoot. Where every activity they encounter will help develop problem solving skills and visual processing abilities, as well as their fine and gross motor skills, where children can practice language, communication, and cooperation in fun and creative ways. Bellerman plans to create a multi-sensory environment that provides a moment of comfort and calm for overactive and distressed children allowing them to release tension and develop coping skills. With the help of the Simmons Foundation grant, they plan to turn this Hyde Park space into an exciting, inviting, multisensory, inclusive outdoor learning area that will support Head Start students, students in kindergarten through 4th grade, and students with special needs.
“This is a brand new courtyard out there that that was the result of an addition that was built to the school. And we are going to turn that into a multi-sensory outdoor learning classroom. We're really excited about this because we're going to have it covered so we can pretty much use it year round,” Bellerman said.
This multisensory courtyard will include seating for entire classes, accessible for wheelchairs and standers. They have planned areas for low and raised garden areas, a calming area for distressed children, a puppet theater that converts into a small stage, activity tables with covers for sand, dirt, water beads, and other sensory materials. Small climbing apparatus with tunnels, and loads of building materials and movement activities for kids to practice balance and coordination and use their large muscles.
“We're going to have the kids help make it. They will be able to go out there, take their shoes off, and just roam around in a place where they can explore and be creative. I love when kids go out and construct things and build things. The space is going to be geared for all the students. We've got a lot of special needs kids here and we are going to design all kinds of stuff for them,” Bellerman said.
In addition, there will be vertical panels mounted on walls for art, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities, fine motor skill manipulation activities, outdoor musical instruments, and a ‘little room’ for wheelchair users with limited motor and visual skills where every movement causes something to happen. The courtyard will feature sail cloth shades which will allow the area to be usable throughout the school year. Plans for storage will be durable, weather-proof, lockable outdoor storage deck boxes that will double as seating.
Bellerman shared that she had a reason for including items that appealed to all students, including the most severely handicapped. And, this reason was very dear to her heart.
“I had a very handicapped son who lived for over 19 years. He taught me so much about how we can make things and adapt them for any kid. We figured out all kinds of way to give kids the ability to do things. And that's what I intend to do with this courtyard out there. We just can't thank everybody enough for their support in helping us accomplish this. This has been my dream to do things like this,” Bellerman said.
Simmons Bank marketing president Jared Johnson spends time visiting with two Lamar students before the grant presentation to teacher Kenna Brandt.
Hyde Park teacher Pam Bellerman is awarded her grant check from the Simmons Bank Foundation by Simmons Bank representatives Jared Johnson and Randy Hensarling and members of the Denison Education Foundation.
Simmons Bank marketing president Jared Johnson spends time visiting with two Hyde Park students before the grant presentation to teacher Pam Bellerman.
Lamar teacher Kenna Brandt is awarded her grant check from the Simmons Bank Foundation by Simmons Bank representatives Jared Johnson and Randy Hensarling and members of the Denison Education Foundation.
Excited for this new opportunity for their students, Lamar teacher Kenna Brandt and Lamar principal Emily Barnett celebrate the awarding of the Simmons Bank grant for their new book vending machine.
Lamar Elementary students will have the opportunity to earn tokens that will allow them to visit the book vending machine for new reading material.