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Teacher's vision leads to grant success

$135,000 from Monsanto, Farmers Insurance funds lab updates, district STEM resources

Published September 7, 2016
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At a glance
  • Prompted by low career readiness within his community, teacher Vic Worthington applied for and won three substantial grants to improve his class and district.
  • Worthington created a lending library of educational resources and funded career-related excursions, among other things.

A teacher with no previous grant-writing experience but with an ambitious idea applies for three major grants and gets all of them – the funds totaling $135,000. What is the lesson?

DREAM BIG

Our teacher in question is Vic Worthington, Pitsco technology lab teacher at Rochelle Middle School in Rochelle, Illinois. Worthington’s quest for grant money began with the realization that his students were not where they needed to be in terms of career readiness. Two years ago, the Rochelle Chamber of Commerce released a report showing that even though the town had no shortage of job opportunities, a high unemployment rate existed among its populace.

“As a local teacher, I felt like a failure,” said Worthington. “I see my mission as a teacher and coach to be showing my students the path to their present and future successes. If local residents weren’t getting the jobs available in the community, I felt like I had let the community down.”

TAKING THE SHOT

Working with the district, Worthington and others developed an ambitious program concept to bring more career relevance and exposure to students. But that meant money would be needed. Worthington had never written a grant before, but he knew the hour had come. “I decided that it was time to try doing something bigger. Win or lose, I wanted to at least take my shot.”

This was spurred on by a bit of serendipity. Worthington was approached by his superintendent in January 2014 with a grant opportunity: Monsanto was offering their America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education (AFGRE) grant in the amount of $10,000. The superintendent wanted to know if Worthington had any plans to grow his technology program. As it happened, the previous day Worthington had met with two Pitsco reps, Todd Smith and Tom Bohr, and the trio had discussed ways to use Worthington’s framework to go beyond lab facilitation. Worthington had left the meeting inspired, and when his superintendent mentioned the grant opportunity, Worthington pitched his program idea on the spot.

To cut to the chase, they won the $10,000 AFGRE grant. And not only that, but the next year Worthington “expanded the focus” and reapplied, this time with a $25,000 proposal. In August 2015, he won again. And it didn’t end there. One of the AFGRE grant staffers noted that another company, Farmers Insurance, was offering a $100,000 program, Thank America’s Teachers. Worthington applied – and won.

THE PAYOFF

To date, Worthington’s total grant winnings amount to $135,000 in funds. The first grant went toward updating Worthington’s lab, adding titles with a focus on agriculture: Aquaculture, Soils, Horticulture, and Sustainable Agriculture. He also added Audio Broadcasting and a simulated agri-news segment activity.

The second Monsanto grant also went in part toward new Modules: Home Makeover, Math Behind Your Meals, and Breakfast Nutrition. But this time the reach also extended beyond Worthington’s lab. One of the goals of the Monsanto grant was to increase math and science across grade levels. To this end, Worthington made several purchases with the whole district in mind. “I purchased a 3-D printer, straw rocket launchers, maglev tracks, TETRIX® robot classroom kits, hot-air balloon kits and launchers, and a few other things. We basically have a lending library for any classroom in the district that needs some fancy science or math toys to help reinforce concepts or do culminating activities to various classroom units.”

With the Farmers Insurance grant, Worthington once more looked toward the benefit of his district, and it was with these funds he pushed the career-literacy program to great heights. The program emphasizes contact between students and professionals. This includes a visit by a local registered nurse or firefighter to provide CPR/AED training for students in Rochelle Middle School’s health class, dialogues between successful district alums and present students in various classes, and even field trips for Worthington’s students to locations (farms, a grain elevator company) relevant to the agriculture-themed Modules they experienced.

The program has even extended the value of the Modules to those not in the lab. According to Worthington, the band and chorus programs are utilizing elements of both the Audio Broadcasting and Music & Sound Modules and teleconferencing with alums working on the traveling companies for two major Nashville recording artists.

RISING TO A CHALLENGE

The last two years have given Worthington a new perspective. Thinking back to his early days as a lab teacher, he remembers seeing numerous grant notices and promotions in Pitsco publications. Of course, the potential benefits were always attractive, but the application process itself seemed daunting. It wasn’t until Worthington took a leap of faith that his dreams for his classroom and his school became real for him.

As it turns out, he wasn’t wrong about the grant application process. It was challenging. “To some extent to get these big grants it was a lot of paperwork. My Farmers Insurance grant was 42 pages when all was said and done. But it paid off.”

Worthington still feels some hesitation about applying for additional grants. After all, he has been batting a thousand so far. Why screw up a perfect record? But he has come to the realization that when it comes to the grant process and his vision for education, he is going to keep stepping up to the plate.

“It’s one thing to make products and another thing to make a product that can work in a classroom. . . . Yes, all of them have products, but there is no comparison to Pitsco.”

– Chendra Garikipati, co-owner, Minerva Learning Systems, India

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