La Crosse educators awarded $40,000 in grants

Educators in the La Crosse Public School District got quite the surprise on Wednesday, when they were awarded with more than $40,000 in grants to improve their classrooms.

Out of the 45 proposals submitted in October, 32 projects were chosen for their creativity, ability to engage students and the total impact.

Melissa Norman applied for a grant underwritten by Mayo Clinic Health System to buy goggles that simulate the feeling of alcohol and marijuana use.

“We want them to be able to experience this and the amount of inhibitions that do occur with alcohol consumption and drug use,” said Norman, a health and physical education teacher.

Right now, the health and physical education teachers have been borrowing the equipment from the police department. With the $1,200 grant, they’re hoping to buy six of each pair of goggles to be rotated around the district.

“You have one kid using a set of goggles while everyone else is watching, and that is not conducive for learning for a whole classroom,” Norman said.

Ruth Baardseth, another staff member, estimates that she has already spent between $300 and $500 to buy picture books needed in the classroom. She’ll have the students create a plot to the picture books using the lessons taught in their classes.

“This allows students to go in and kind of sketch out what the story is really saying,” said Baardseth, a literacy specialist.

With the $1,600 grant, she’ll be able to expand her collection to over 120 books. But by going the extra mile, she says when the opportunity presents itself, others do take notice.

“You start to spread that passion, and other people are like, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool idea. I want to help you and support you in that,'” Baardseth said.

The school’s principal hopes that the grants from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation will do more than just reduce the direct burden on teachers. Because projects like the impairment goggles will travel to different schools, they could free up even more funds.

“The support is invaluable for all of the kids in this building and across the district,” said Melissa Murray, principal of Lincoln Middle School.

The teachers will have to complete some additional paperwork before the funds are released in January. A second round of Gold Star Grants are due at the end of February, and a committee will decide who will get those by early April.