Stories of Impact

Stories of Impact


STEAMtown is the brainchild of Carrie Busey teachers Laura Retallick and Gay Cabutti. The CUSF funds they received enabled them to substantially enhance an existing program and add new activities in all areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.

Students are able to explore STEAM subjects with the use of engaging accessories such as a sketch kit to program Dash Bots and Make Do tools to develop engineering skills by building structures out of cardboard, using safe tools to construct an endless variety of creations.

Hotrodders of Tomorrow

Urbana High School teacher Dave Charney not only teaches Career and Technical Education at UHS but he also teaches at the Parkland College Dual Credit Automotive Program. He and Parkland Automotive Technology teacher Adam Karsh have worked together for the last few years to establish an engine competition team made up of local high school students. As part of the dual credit class, students learn to disassemble and reassemble a V-8 engine in under 33 minutes in order to qualify for the National Hotrodders of Tomorrow competition in Las Vegas. The program has grown over the years from one team of five students to now two teams of ten students. The two practice engines they currently have aren’t sufficient to allow every student adequate access to practice their skills.

Sensory Supports for All

Brittany Burzinski and Nate Wahl were college classmates at the University of Illinois and had always wanted to work together on a project once they started their teaching careers. The Collaborative Grant they received from CUSF gave them that opportunity. Brittany is a Functional Life Skills teacher at Stratton Elementary in Champaign and Nate is an Emotional/Behavior Disorder specialist at Yankee Ridge Elementary in Urbana.

In their own special education classrooms, they work with sensory supports daily, however when students transition into the general education classrooms there were none of these materials for students to utilize. They also believed that sensory supports could be beneficial for the general education students as well.

Exploring Health Careers

Kenwood Elementary second grade teacher Julie Norcross already has a classroom full of interesting science-based projects for her students. Not one to sit back and take it easy, Julie decided to add a science based medical careers exploration project to her classroom by applying for the CUSF Career Awareness Grant.

With the grant money, medical models of the skeletal, circulatory and nervous systems along with eyes, ears and microscopes were purchased and students directly interacted with them as they learned about each of five body systems.

Little Theater Field Trip

4th graders at Dr. Williams Elementary School in Urbana visited the Little Theater on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois to learn about careers in the world of theater. The experience was so impactful that teacher Lane Cannon-Gjerde is doing it again with this year’s 4th grade students.

For Ms. Lane Cannon-Gjerde’s 88 fourth graders, the classroom extends far beyond the colorful walls of her drama classroom. Last November, Ms. Cannon-Gjerde took the fourth graders from Dr. William Preston elementary school to The Little Theater in Sullivan, Illinois. This field trip was made possible by the funds from the Champaign Urbana Grant Foundation.

Champaign Central Math Escape Room becomes a reality with a CUSF Collaborative Grant

Math teachers at Central High School had been discussing the possibility of adding an escape room style experience to the Math curriculum. Erin Carmichael led the way by submitting a grant proposal for the purchase of materials to set up the Math Escape Rooms to be used at not just Central High School but in collaboration with Centennial math teacher Jay Hooper and Urbana H.S. math teacher Dan Bechtel.

Making a difference in our schools.

Since 1990, CU Schools Foundation has accepted applications from educators in the Champaign and Urbana public schools, and awarded MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS based on these proposals. We fund a broad spectrum of projects to help children of all ages and all levels of accomplishment. The benefits of these projects continue long after the initial investment.

“When the community supports the CU Schools Foundation, they are investing in learning resources for C-U students that launch them from the classroom into authentic learning that can be carried into real-life careers.”

Laura Hlinka and Janice Hari
Urbana Middle School

Animal Investigators


Erica Cooper-Peyton’s 1st graders at Dr. Preston Williams Elementary in Urbana were visited by a variety of animals and plants thanks to a $250.00 Compact Grant. Erica worked with Anita Purves Nature Center to provide 5 one hour plant and animal investigations right in the classroom. Students participated in hands on Next Generation Science Standards aligned activities and experiments. Naturalists from Anita Purves Nature Center brought reptiles, owls, worms, plants and more helping students gain in depth understanding of the life cycles, characteristics, and adaptations of these plants and animals.

Overheard in Ms. Cooper-Peyton’s classroom:

“I saw an owl. A real owl! In my classroom!” -A.C.

“I didn’t know turtles could be fast! They can actually run, even the ones with only 3 legs.” -R.B.

“I always thought snakes were slimy and gross. Cornelia was so soft and smooth. I liked when she went into Ms. Emily’s pocket!” -J.B.

Tackling real world challenges

This fall, as part of our latest COLLABORATIVE GRANT, students from Edison Middle School and Urbana High School joined forces to plant crops, dig a pond, test soil, build solar distillation units, harvest water and make it potable for consumption, create Farm-to-Table menus and generate hands-on connections between scientific theory and practice.

“There are lots of jobs here, and it makes it easier to be part of a team.”

Edison Middle School student

“This project is the perfect working lab for my environmental science students and my animal and land science students'” says Dr. Joni White, UHS Science and Agriculture teacher. “Real world experiences are essential for understanding and honing problem solving skills.”

Engaging students through the arts

Cara Maurizi, a music teacher at King Elementary in Urbana, and Lisa Ferguson, a first grade teacher at the same school, believe the arts are essential to education. The two teamed up on a grant proposal to connect Next Generation Science Standards with the arts. They developed lessons in five subject areas, and each lesson fuses art, literacy and science.

More Stories of Impact

Career Realism
Developing Skills
Taking Additional Steps
Broadening Worlds
Exploring Engineering
Standing Up for Learning

Creating Biologists

Observing Owls
Fostering Collaboration
Creating Engineers at Prairie

Preparing Students for Life

Urbana School District #116 News

    Champaign Unit 4 Schools News