On Monday, November 20th, the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) Prize Patrol delivered oversized checks totaling more than $37,000 to 93 teachers in Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana School District #116 Schools.

The grant awards, which support 66 new projects benefiting 15,385 students, are part of CUSF’s ongoing efforts to foster creativity and elevate excellence in our local public schools.

Two projects bring teachers and students together across the Champaign and Urbana districts. A proposal titled “Mathematics Escape Room” promotes critical and logical thinking skills in a fun, unconventional way. Students will work together to solve a series of puzzles and unlock a box using clues, hints and strategy. Math teachers from Central, Centennial and Urbana High Schools will work together to bring an escape room into their classrooms as an interactive way for students to learn or review material.

The project lead, Central High School math teacher Erin Carmichael says, “We believe the escape room offers students a unique opportunity to persevere in problem solving, as well as work together in a way that is beyond their routine course work.” The high school math teachers plan to pilot the project in the spring semester to see how it affects student assessment, and then they will make improvements for next year. The concept can be modified for different age levels and content areas. Carmichael adds, “We plan to share our ideas with the schools in our community, so that they can share in our successes and inspire others to create more innovative lessons for their students.”

The second cross-district proposal titled “Inter-city Strings in Concert with Friends” will increase the number of stringed instruments in Champaign and Urbana public schools so every student who wishes to learn a string instrument will have the opportunity to join strings class. Beth McDonald at Booker T. Washington Elementary and Tamra Gingold at Urbana High School will collaborate with other strings teachers across the districts, as well as, the Community Center for the Arts to plan a high school music composition competition and concert. Winning compositions will be featured in an inter-city strings concert in the spring. McDonald says, “I’m walking on air to know that we are going to have instruments for all our kids and we are going to be able to do this inter-city concert with Robin Kearton from Bowdacious Strings and Community Center for the Arts. It will be really great for the kids.”

Funds for other proposals will be used to develop hydroponics labs at Stratton and South Side Elementary Schools, add a three-in-one sheet metal tool to Urbana High School’s welding program, bring experts from the U of I Sousa Archives to Yankee Ridge and Leal Elementary Schools, launch a P-cubed Pen Pal Project  at Kenwood Elementary, build a beehive laboratory near the Urbana high school and middle school campuses, and much more. A full list of projects can be found at http://cuschoolsfoundation.org/grant-announcements.

Earlier this fall, Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation awarded $14,463 to expand three cross-district, collaborative grants from last year. Another grant cycle is planned for the spring, and CUSF will award more than $72,000 during the 2017-18 school year. The mission of the Foundation is to elevate the excellence in Champaign and Urbana public schools by investing in educators and students. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Patricia Dessen, patdes@cuschoolsfoundation.org or Molly Delaney, delaney1@cuschoolsfoundation.org.