NJEA’s Hipp Foundation grants boost programs in two schools

Staff Writer

Two teachers in the region served by Greater Media Newspapers have received grants from the New Jersey Education Association Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education to continue special projects they started last year.

Rita Williams, a teacher at the Dr. Gerald H. Woehr Elementary School, Plumsted, received $10,000 for the Blue Skies Project.

Brian Simpson, a teacher at Freehold High School, Freehold Borough, received $9,300 for the Patchwork of Diversity: Continuado. Their projects were two of only 15 in New Jersey to receive a portion of the nearly $104,000 that was awarded this year.

According to the NJEA, the Hipp Foundation was created to provide assistance to projects throughout the state that “will enhance and improve the learning environment in our public schools.”

Since its establishment in 1993, the foundation has awarded more than $1.5 million for more than 300 projects.

Williams said the Blue Skies Project in Plumsted is designed to bring children closer to nature while strengthening their understanding of technology and the creative process.

“It’s a project that is service learning and the kids make beautiful artwork that we digitize and publish in digital books,” Williams said.

As part of the project, students will take occasional nature walks through the surrounding area and take photos with digital cameras provided by the school.

Their pictures will be imported onto iPads that have been bought with the grant money and select images will be framed and displayed at a gallery opening in a to-bedetermined hospital. That artwork, along with a performance of the Blue Skies Project Live, an original musical composition based on nature, will also go on tour to hospitals and veterans outreach facilities in neighboring towns. About 25 fifth-graders will participate in the performance.

Williams said the idea for the project came to her after a visit to a hospital emergency room when her husband fell ill.

“I was quarantined with my husband for a while and realized that the only thing peo- ple had to do to pass the time was read the same magazines or watch reruns of Jerry Springer,” Williams said. “During that time, if I had some children’s artwork to look at, I thought I would feel better and be hopeful for the future. It’s the idea of sharing blue skies to help people feel better.”

Williams said the project received $5,000 from the Grainger Foundation after a student’s parent learned what the teacher was planning to do.

“That was such a gift out of the blue,” Williams said. “I hope the public realizes there is real power in children’s art and that the students understand they have (to have) compassion for others in need and that they can change people’s lives through art.” In Freehold Borough, Simpson and fellow Freehold High School teacher Linda Thomas planned to use the Hipp grant to bring back a celebration of Hispanic heritage in September. Activities were designed to raise awareness of Hispanic culture in America.

Simpson said a significant percentage of the high school’s enrollment is of Hispanic descent.

During September, teachers in the art and English departments encouraged students to write a biographical poem and to provide accompanying art about a notable Hispanic figure.

Each item created by the freshman class was expected to be used to create a quilt to be displayed in the media center. Other events during the month included a cookoff featuring Hispanic cuisine, and guest speakers.

This year’s program also brings back the Hispanic Outreach to Promote Education (HOPE) alliance, an after-school program that provides scholastic assistance for students of all ethnicities.

“This is a really huge project. Through the NJEA, it is allowing us to have supplies for the after-school program,” Simpson said.

Math and science teachers have volunteers to assist in after-school tutoring efforts.

HOPE also features an ambassador program which allows students to participate in fundraisers for local charities and visit local colleges to learn about potential options for higher education.

According to Simpson, student interest in HOPE has jumped since it started last year when only 10 students were regularly involved.

“The students are really starting to take ownership of the club, which is something any teacher hopes for,” Simpson said. “Hopefully it will continue to grow.”

All in all, the program is expected to incorporate the English, Social Studies, Art and Culinary Departments.

“This project is to help promote cultural awareness,” Simpson said. “(It’s also for) giving the Hispanic students in the school a club and organization that they can be proud of,”

— Contact Andrew Martins at amartins@gmnews.com