Junior League awards grants

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- With financial circumstances as they are in Georgia's public schools, teachers need more help now than ever purchasing the classroom materials.

Enter the Junior League of Albany.

Through a teacher grant program, the league considered 28 applications from teachers in area schools -- public, private and independent -- and whittled down the list to 11 recipients from Dougherty and Lee counties.

"We want to help support teachers and help support education," said Heather Harbuck, a kindergarten teacher at Lee County Primary School and the league's teacher grant coordinator. "We've been doing it for years."

A total of $2,400 was set aside to give to teachers to help supplement curriculum. In the grant application, teachers are expected to establish a need and state an objective. Then, a committee on the league reads the applications and selects the winners.

After the grants are awarded, teachers are expected to give an impact statement.

"We made sure it was something to help supplement, and not just teachers asking for money," Harbuck said.

Among the Dougherty County recipients this year included Sherri Stone, a kindergarten teacher at Alice Coachman Elementary School. This was the fourth grant she has gotten from the league in 12 years.

"It has been a big support, especially with all the cutbacks," she said. "It has helped tremendously."

Stone has been working for two years to pull all the pieces together for an outside classroom, which is what she continued to do with the league grant this year.

"A lot of children may not have yards, and a lot also may not go outside," she said when explaining her motivation.

The set up for a butterfly garden was put in place as part of the initial phase of the project. The additions that were purchased with this grant were the items deemed necessary for attracting hummingbirds.

"(The outdoor classroom) teaches children reciprocal relationships with nature," Stone said.

"I was very excited (to receive the grant). I wanted to add to the classroom. This year's class seems excited about going outside. This gives them (the students) something to make and see grow. It gives them a feeling of pride."

The classroom, which got started as a result of the last league grant Stone received, is being used as an area for creative circles and reading groups in hopes of putting content areas together.

"(The league grant) is a great program," she said. "I'd encourage any teacher to fill out an application. It takes thought, but it's worth it."

One of the other recipients was Cyndy Hemphill, a second-grade teacher at Lee County Primary, who has used the funds to purchase reading comprehension materials.

"With the budget cuts, school systems have less money to buy materials," the veteran grant recipient said. "(The grant) helps a lot.

"There are always more things you need. We are always looking for creative ways to help them learn."

Misty Keaton, another second-grade teacher at Lee County Primary, used the grant she received to purchase materials to help her students become more fluent readers.

"The things I purchased were things that were proven to work," she said. "We don't have a big budget (for classroom materials), so I hopped to (applying for the grant).

"I was relieved that I could get something I know works. I have a list of things I want to buy, so when there is extra money, I know what to get."

In an environment where resources are scarce, educators are willing to receive all the help they can get.

"It (the league grant) supports education, and we are always needing partners," Keaton said. "Teaching is kind of a thankless job.

"When you get a grant like this, it's a pat on the back. It really boosts morale."

With furlough days building up, it can be especially burdensome to find ways to get the materials teachers need, the recipients say.

"Teachers always purchase things with their own money," Hemphill said. "We don't think twice about it."

The grants were awarded in January, and teachers were using the money by February.