Grants open door to innovation

Naugatuck High School science teacher Beth Lancaster, right, accepts a grant from Naugatuck Education Foundation Chairman Matt Fortney April 23 during a reception at the Neary Ballroom. The NEF awarded eight grants totaling $30,000. –LUKE MARSHALL

Naugatuck High School science teacher Beth Lancaster, right, accepts a grant from Naugatuck Education Foundation Chairman Matt Fortney April 23 during a reception at the Neary Ballroom. The NEF awarded eight grants totaling $30,000. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The inability to sit still in class may lead to a detention for some students. For Hillside Intermediate School sixth-grader Jay Barth it led to a $3,500 grant.

At home, Barth will do his homework or read a book while walking on the treadmill, his father, Lou Barth, said.

Father and son brought the idea of incorporating movement into learning to Hillside Intermediate School Principal Johnna Hunt, who recommended they keep working on the idea. They began researching how to make it possible and, with the help of school interventionist Pam Rotatori, created a plan that included the use of pedal machines under desks and exercise balls instead of chairs.

Rotatori received a $3,500 grant from the Naugatuck Education Foundation to implement the program, called “Active Sitting,” at Hillside. A $2,000 was awarded to Hop Brook Elementary School teachers Rachel Maher, Dawn Nemeth, and Nadja Murtishi to implement a similar program at the school.

The programs were among the eight to receive funding from the NEF this year. The NEF is a nonprofit organization that funds unique educational programs in Naugatuck public schools that are not funded through the operating budget.

The foundation awarded a total of $30,000 in grants during a reception April 23.

The $30,000 is the most the foundation has awarded. NEF Chairman Matt Fortney said the organization received a record $50,000 worth of grant applications from educators this year.

“This is our fourth grant cycle, and we started with five $500 grants we gave out. Then it moved to $10,000. Last year was $20,000 and this year is $30,000. Who knows where we’re going next,” Fortney said.

Hunt said the NEF supports students and teachers through its grants.

“How do, in education, we make sure we hire and that we support, retain, and elevate the best teachers? We do that by creating an environment for teachers where they are empowered,” Hunt said. “The NEF is not only supporting and elevating the achievement of students, but the NEF is supporting and elevating the teaching in Naugatuck.”

Fortney said the NEF chose to start giving out grants to make Naugatuck a better place.

“Whenever anybody complains about community or complains about education there are really three things you can do about it. You can either move somewhere else, you can do nothing and complain, or you can get involved and try to figure out a way to make things better. All of us have decided we are going to try to make things better. This is one of the ways we are able to do it,” Fortney said.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said the grants allow teachers to be innovated and set an example for their students.

“It gives our teachers an opportunity to innovate. That’s what we want to model for our students. It also provides the community an opportunity to engage in education and really listen to the great things our teachers are doing,” Locke said.

The Naugatuck Education Foundation awarded the following grants:

Smart Music — $1,800: Teachers Kathy Dravis and Michelle Beck at City Hill Middle School will purchase iPads with software that listens to students practice music and gives them immediate feedback about their pitch, whether they played in rhythm, etc.

Hillside Drama Club — $3,000: Teacher Jenna Dufresne will purchase sound equipment for a drama club she started for students at Hillside Intermediate School.

World Music Drumming — $5,300: Teacher Cathy Lungarini will purchase various percussion instruments and study cultures in Africa and across the Caribbean where drums are a predominant part of the culture. Students will learn music and culture.

STEM Lego Robotics — $2,500: Cross Street Intermediate School teacher Maria Ryan will use the grant to teach students the basics of robotics and introduce STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

“I See It” — $500: Naugatuck High School science teacher Beth Lancaster will use the money to buy tools that allow students to use their smartphones as microscopes.

Unified Sports — $8,000: Naugatuck High School Athletic Director Tom Pompei will implement Unified Sports at Naugatuck High School and City Hill Middle School.

Learning in Motion — $2,000: Hop Brook Elementary School teachers Rachel Maher, Dawn Nemeth, and Nadja Murtishi will use exercise balls and pedal machines at desks to help students who need to be active remain focused on the lesson.

Active Sitting — $3,500: Hillside Intermediate School Teacher Pam Rotatori and sixth grader Jay Barth will use exercise balls and pedal machines at desks to help students who need to be active remain focused on the lesson.