Irvine Public Schools Foundation ‘mega grants’ help teachers fund innovative instruction

The Irvine Public Schools Foundation has awarded eight “mega grants” of up to $20,000 each to help local teachers enhance learning with innovation labs, esports technology, 3D printers, musical instruments, robotics and flexible furniture.

Through its Innovative Grants Program, IPSF offers educators in the Irvine Unified School District the opportunity to make their best pitches for how they’d use extra funding to improve educational experiences for students. The idea is to fuel new and creative approaches to teaching and counseling.

Students and teacher with oversize check
Kelly Duncan of Eastshore Elementary School receives a large check for $20,000 from the Irvine Public Schools Foundation to fund her project, “Embedding Robotics to Promote Enrichment and Engagement.” (Photos courtesy of Lisa Hu Chen Photography)

Foundation officials expect to award more than $200,000 to 29 projects this year.

“In order to prepare our students for the future, we must provide them with educational opportunities that give them hands-on experiences and skills that they can apply to real world applications,” IPSF President and CEO Neda Eaton said.

Funding for the program comes from corporate partners like Google Fiber and parent support through another IPSF program, Parents Appreciating Teachers and Staff.

The annual PATS campaign, which is taking place now through April 20, allows parents to purchase a certificate of appreciation to recognize their favorite IUSD teachers and staff members.

“We are proud to support IUSD instructors who are passionate about elevating student learning far beyond standard academic curriculum,” Neda said. “We are also thankful to our community and sponsors who help make these grants possible for our students.”

Since 1996, IPSF has awarded over $2 million to teachers and counselors, benefiting more than 200,000 students.

The 2020 grant recipients will be honored Monday, Feb. 24 at an awards reception at Strawberry Farms Golf Club.

Here’s the list of this year’s recipients:

Kelly Duncan
Eastshore Elementary School
Name of Grant: Embedding Robotics to Promote Enrichment and Engagement
Program Summary: Provides Ozobots Evo Classroom Kits and Blue-Bots to students in grades K-6 to teach fundamental concepts of coding and robotics. Funds will also allow teaching staff to expand their robotics curriculum.

Lacey Aguilar, Liz Kovacic and Danielle Nunes
Northwood Elementary School
Name of Grant: Innovation for All – Big and Small
Program Summary: Provides a space for students in grades TK-6th grade to explore technology and STEAM activities on a weekly basis.

Kerry Rubel
Oak Creek Elementary School
Name of Grant: Dream BIG with Rigamajig – Build, Innovate, Grow!
Program Summary: Using Rigamajig Basic Builder Kits, students will have the opportunity to learn various science and engineering concepts through designing and experimenting. Students will explore their creativity through free play and guided-design challenges. This grant is funded by IPSF in partnership with Google Fiber.

Students and teacher with oversize check
Portola High students Elliot Yu, Benjamin Kim and Ethan Ho celebrate with physics teacher Anthony Pham, who was awarded a $20,000 IPSF grant to pay for professional-grade esports technology.

Anthony Pham
Portola High School
Name of Grant: Preparing Student-Athletes for the Next Competition: Esports
Program Summary: Provides students the opportunity to explore the world of competitive gaming and develop skills in communication, collaboration and teamwork. Funds will provide professional-level equipment to enable instruction, competition and student practice. This grant is funded by IPSF in partnership with Google Fiber.

James Kang and Henry Miller
Sierra Vista Middle School
Name of Grant: Percussion Ensemble
Program Summary: Provides the equipment necessary to offer a percussion ensemble class, allowing student percussionists a tailored music learning experience.

Karen Fisher
Venado Middle School
Name of Grant: De-stress for Success
Program Summary: Through the addition of flexible furniture, will transform their library/media center to foster group collaboration, student discussion and deeper application of course content.

Daniel Pilchman
Woodbridge High School
Name of Grant: High School Makerspace and Innovation Lab
Program Summary: Creates a makerspace for students to engage with technology and teach technical skills valued in the workplace, such as 3D printing, CNC milling, and laser cutting.

Chris Weber
IUSD STEM Department
Name of Grant: STAR Lab Equipment
Program Summary: Provides all elementary and middle school students a StarLab projector to learn about astronomy and earth sciences.