District 45 Foundation awards mini-grants to staff

On Dec. 20, 2023, the District 45 Foundation for Excellence in Education went on “Prize Patrol” by visiting Villa Park Elementary District 45 staff awarded fall mini-grants for the 2023-24 school year.

With giant checks in hand, foundation board members Katie Wagner, Ken Hildreth, Peg Egen, Lynda S. Wilson, Al Legutki, Linda Nystrom, and board president Rae Rupp Srch arrived at schools to surprise each of the mini-grant recipients with news of their award.

Five mini-grants were awarded, totaling $3,770.

One of the mini-grants awarded was to Ardmore Elementary fourth-grade teachers Kristi Isaacson and Katie Mueller. Their proposal, “Full STEAM Ahead,” engages students in a STEAM (Science — and Social Science — Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) project, which includes research and the creation of a KATO train track mini diorama to bring their research to life.

“We are really excited to receive the mini-grant,” said Kristi Isaacson, a fourth-grade teacher at Ardmore Elementary. “The mini-grant will give students many unique educational opportunities and help them engage in almost all aspects of 21st-century learning.”

While creating the diorama, students will be challenged to interpret facts and figures from digital media and present their findings creatively. They must solve problems, think critically, and take ownership of their learning.

Isaacson said that the fourth-grade students at Ardmore will also have the opportunity to put math skills to use by taking and converting measurements and then creating their dioramas to scale. Students will be encouraged to brainstorm the best way to represent their research, attempt to create it, revise it, and ultimately complete a project they are proud of.

Once the dioramas are complete, students will apply what they have learned about energy in science to link all their dioramas, creating a closed circuit. With a closed circuit, students can run a train along their tracks and watch their collective efforts bring their learning to life.

“Our students have also been invited to participate in the KATO Mini Diorama Circus,” said Ardmore fourth-grade Teacher Katie Mueller. “This portion of the project allows students to post photos and share the story behind their diorama as well as trials and tribulations in the KATO App.”

In August of 2024, students will be invited to share their dioramas with students in Japan via Zoom.

In November, the foundation invited District 45 staff to apply for mini-grants and fire up their creativity for new and innovative projects that were not within District 45’s normal operating budget.

In early December, the foundation’s board of directors carefully reviewed the mini-grant applications they received and arrived at five winning proposals.

For these awards, mini-grants of no more than $1,000 were awarded. The Foundation offers mini-grants this year in addition to the regular grant program offered each spring.

District 45 staff will be able to apply for the regular grants beginning in February of 2024, with program implementation in the 2024-25 school year.

Mini-grants were awarded to:

• Fluency & Fitness Program for Kindergarten Team: Jennifer Zappas, Ardmore Elementary, $375;

• Full STEAM Ahead: Kristi Isaacson and Katie Mueller, Ardmore Elementary, $700;

• “Makey Makey” for Productive Language Growth of EL Students: Mia Bohlin, Ardmore Elementary, $695;

• Paws and Passports: A Bilingual Adventure with Furry Friends: Esthela Arenas, Schafer Elementary, $1,000;

• ARC Gamification: Katie Bolin, Stephanie Brasie and Azucena Arreguin, Schafer Elementary, $1,000.

Throughout the year, the District 45 Foundation for Excellence in Education raises funds for regular grants and mini-grants.

Donations to the foundation can be made online or by mail anytime at

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