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Mitchell teachers receive grants to bring high-tech ideas to life

Chad Lentsch, a fifth grade teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary, tells his class about the microscopes they'll be using this school year after receiving a $1,479.12 grant on Wednesday afternoon. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)1 / 2
L.B. Williams Elementary music teacher Kim Bruguier reacts to finding out that she was awarded a KIDS Grant on Wednesday. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)2 / 2

The first day of school this year was particularly special for 16 Mitchell teachers who received a total of $18,000 in Kernel Innovation to Develop Success (KIDS) Grants.

The winners of the grants were surprised in front of their classes on Wednesday and were presented with balloons and checks by Superintendent Joseph Graves and District Curriculum Director Sherri Becker.

On Friday morning, those teachers and other applicants presented their ideas for innovative teaching projects to a board of five judges. The judges narrowed the group to 11 projects, a few of which were presented by small teams of teachers, but were $1,000 short of the amount needed to fund all of them.

"They had such a hard time cutting anybody, because they were really impressed with all of the ideas that the teachers came with," Becker said. "They did cut it down, but they couldn't get past $18,000. So one of the judges stepped up and gave another $1,000 so that we could not have to cut anymore. So that was pretty exciting; we've never had that happen before."

This is the fourth year that KIDS Grants have been awarded, and more projects were submitted this year than in any previous year — 17 in total. The money for the grants came from eight local sponsors and donors.

While most of the grants went to individual teachers, three went to groups of three teachers each. One teacher, Cindy Bierman, of L.B. Williams Elementary, received two grants.

A grant presented to Cindy Gerlach, Julie Olson and Tim Pranger of the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy will be used to create structures used in hydroponics. Students will research which plants do best in different conditions, figure out how to use hydroponics for culinary purposes and see if they can figure out ways to decrease phosphorus in water.

"They're supposed to be innovative projects, so something that goes above and beyond the curriculum," Becker said.

The 11 projects for which checks were awarded on Wednesday ranged from teaching kindergartners how to code to teaching middle schoolers with virtual reality. The majority of the grants will go toward purchasing new technology, such as tablets, microscopes and a 3D printer. Amounts awarded were between about $500 and $4,000, and many students present when the checks were given out were excited when they were told about the technology they'll be using this year.