New Grants Support Music and the Fine Arts in Local Public Schools

viola-picEdison Middle School student Soumyota Sen plays a new viola purchased with funds from Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation’s The Gift of Music grant program.

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is partnering with Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana School District #116 to pilot two new grant programs—The Gift of Music and A Gift for the Fine Arts. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, nine music teachers in Champaign Unit 4 and three elementary fine arts teachers in Urbana School District #116 were awarded more than $8,000 for special projects this school year.

The Gift of Music ‘s goal is to support and enhance K-12 music education in Champaign Unit 4 schools, and A Gift for the Fine Arts’ goal is support and enhance fine arts education in Urbana School District #116 elementary schools.  Both grant programs have a spring and fall application window. A selection committee reviews proposals and recipients are announced in May and December.  Activities considered for funding include student attendance at a performance, guest artist or artist-in-residence programs, instrument purchase, fine arts focused field trips or school related performances.

Spring recipients of The Gift of Music and A Gift for the Fine Arts grant programs were announced last week and projects include a performance of Opera for the Young at Dr. Howard Elementary in Champaign and a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago for 5th grade art students at Dr. Williams in Urbana.

Earlier this year, Champaign Unit 4 strings teacher Curtis Viselli received funds from The Gift of Music to purchase two cellos and two violas for the strings programs at Bottenfield Elementary and Edison Middle School. “Many of the students involved in school music programs are not able to provide their own instruments. With an increase in student numbers we were running short on school-owned instruments to rent out. With the instruments we purchased, we met our goals for student inclusion and no one was turned away from an orchestra class if they were not able to provide an instrument.”

gift-of-music-picStudents notice a difference in the sound quality of the new instruments. According to Edison cellist Jade Cadman, the new cello is much better than the old one. “It sounds really nice. The old ones needed to be tuned a lot. You can tune this one faster, which gives you more time to practice.” Cadman claims the new instrument has an impact on her performance. “When you walk out on the stage with a shiny instrument, you just feel confident, like you are going to nail it.” Violist Soumyota Sen agrees. “With my old instrument, the sound just kind of faded away.”

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is working with the donor to create two permanent endowments to continue support for the arts in each school district. So far this year, Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation has awarded over $30,000 in classroom grants. The mission of the Foundation is to build a stronger community by developing and supporting innovative programs to make all C-U public school students college/career ready. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Patricia Dessen, or Molly Delaney,

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CUSF Starts the School Year Off By Awarding Two Collaborative Grants

Teachers from Urbana District 116 and Champaign Unit 4 will be working together on two projects this school year, thanks to $8,000 in grants from the CU Schools Foundation.  The grant awards which will benefit 250 students, were announced on Tuesday morning as both school districts prepare to open their doors.

A proposal titled CREATING SUSTAINABLE NUTRITION THROUGH EDUCATION COLLABORATIVE GRANT brings together 100 students from Urbana High School and Edison Middle School to build solar distillation units, harvest water IMG_5184 (1)and make it potable for consumption, plant seeds, test soil, create Farm to Table menus and generate hands-on connections between scientific theory and practice. “This project will be the perfect working lab for my environmental science students and my animal and land science students.  Real world experiences are essential for understanding and honing problem solving skills,” shares Dr. Joni White, UHS Science and Ag Instructor.  Collaborating educators on this project are Edison Middle School teachers Julie Anders and Karen Easton; Urbana High School teachers Kris Sherrick, Becky Weber, Joni White, and Amanda (Perez) Rosser; and University of Illinois Agriculture Intern Maggie Maxstadt.

career awareness webThe second project—a Cross-District Career Awareness Grant titled, CAREER REALISM—is designed to help ninth and tenth graders research and explore careers they might not have considered, in high demand fields such as CULINARY SCIENCE, WELDING, HEALTH CARE, VETERINARY MEDICINE, CARPENTRY, ENGINEERING, CHILD DEVELOPMENT, and more. As part of this project, students and teachers will work together to organize a CAREER REALISM EVENT which will allow students to tour businesses related to their career areas of interest. The grant involves two school districts, three high schools, eight teachers, seven community partners and approximately 150 students.  Champaign Unit 4 teachers Brad Anderson, Robin Bidwell, Marc Changnon, and Dave Johnson are collaborating with Urbana District 116 teachers Pam Furrer, Amanda Perez, Kyle Thomas and Kris Sherrick on this project. This grant was made possible by a generous gift from James and Karen Sue McKechnie.

This is just the beginning of the grants CU Schools Foundation will award this school year. Compact and Competitive Grants will be awarded to teachers at the end of September as well as Gift of Music and Gift of Arts grants in November.  The mission of the Foundation is to build a stronger community by developing and supporting innovative programs to make all C-U public school students college/career ready. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Patricia Dessen, or Molly Delaney,



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The I.D.E.A. Store Welcomes Jessy Ruddell as Their New Retail Manager

Ruddell (1)Jessy Ruddell is excited to be starting her “dream job” as Retail Manager at The I.D.E.A. Store. Ruddell, a highly experienced retail executive with an eye for hidden treasures, has been volunteering at The I.D.E.A. Store since October and joined the store as manager on July 1st. Ruddell says, “Volunteering at the store has been a joy for me, and I’m thrilled with the opportunity to be a bigger part of it.”

Over the last ten years, Ruddell held three management positions with Common Ground Food Co-op and played a vital role in the store’s two successful expansions. A resident of the Champaign- Urbana community for more than 24 years, Ruddell is happy to be working for another values-driven and community-focused enterprise. She loves The I.D.E.A. Store’s multifaceted role in the community. “Where else can you keep stuff out of the landfill, take a class, support the local schools, and find inspiration?” Read more ›

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Two Teachers to Receive Cupcake Awards from CU Schools Foundation

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation will honor Mary Coash, Kindergarten Teacher at Westview Elementary, Champaign Unit 4 and Jessica Wilson, Special Education High School teacher at Gerber School, Urbana District 116 with 2016 Cupcake Awards. Selected teachers are nominated by their peers and exhibit exemplary service, extra efforts, enthusiastic attitude and innovative ideas that noticeably benefit their students.

Mary Coash currently teaches Kindergarten at Westview Elementary, but she has played many roles during her 31 years in education. As Mary says, “I always had the right job at the right time.” Her students taught her to stay flexible and open to new ideas, and she adapts her teaching to meet the needs of her students.

Mary believes Kindergarten is the foundation of learning. “I want my kids to love school and love learning. I enjoy teaching Kindergarten because you see so much growth.” A fellow teacher says, “The feeling of Mary’s class is one of warmth, acceptance and love. She highlights students’ strengths each day and reteaches when a student struggles with a concept.” Mary also serves as the PTA liaison, co-writes school wide “Cool Tool” lessons and participates in many school initiatives.

Urbana District 116 teacher Jessica Wilson has been teaching high school students at Gerber School for the past seven years, and says she “absolutely LOVES it!” Gerber School serves students who live at Cunningham Children’s Home and many of the students have significant behavior and/or emotional disabilities. Jessica especially enjoys the students at Gerber and claims, “They teach me more than I teach them, especially about resiliency, patience, the ability to trust and how to be strong.”

A colleague at Gerber says, “These students require some special teaching talents in order to engage them in learning. Jess has just those skills! She is a master at creating a safe environment in which each student is valued and in which they can grow in all areas.” In addition, Jessica is a quiet leader who participates in the Urbana School District 116 Unified Professional Development Program. She learns new ideas, shares them with fellow teachers and bring fresh enthusiasm to her team.

Both teachers will receive a $500 grant for their classrooms and will be honored on Saturday, April 2 at the 2016 CUSF Gala at the Hilton Garden Inn. In addition, CUSF will recognize 5 graduates of our local public high schools with three awards: Distinguished Alumni Award, Local Hero Award and Local Business Community Impact Award. The event is open to the public with advance ticket purchase. For tickets or additional information visit: or call 217-398-2873. Deadline for ticket purchase is March 26. Proceeds from ticket sales support the mission of CUSF and our schools.

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