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La Crosse Public Education Foundation gives $26,400 for racial justice training and classroom materials

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Training for La Crosse school teachers and staff, plus purchase of diverse books and other classroom materials for students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade will get a boost due to more than $26,400 in grant funding announced Oct. 1 by the La Crosse Public Education Foundation (LPEF).

Among the 11 grants are funding for an intensive racial justice workshop for all staff at Longfellow Middle School, books and materials for pre-kindergarten classes at 10 sites, and new curriculum materials for every 7th grade social studies class. The district hoped the funding will help students understand diversity and learn to think globally and act locally.

“The LPEF has been doing grants ever since it was formed in 1988,” David Stoeffler, executive director of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation said. “This is the first time we’ve done a special grant category just for equity, diversity and inclusion grants, but we’ve been funding these kinds of projects for the last several years.”

David Stoeffler

Stoeffler said the pandemic was a factor as the grant applicants had a short period of time to compile materials, but LPEF created this special grant cycle so that the first funding would be available immediately. Typically, the first funding would not be available until January.

In addition to funding from LPEF, support for these special Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Grants is being provided by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and Mayo Clinic Health System.

“We are listening to people of color and many others who are concerned about systemic racism, social injustice and inequities in K-12 schools,” said Rochelle Nicks, LPEF Board President and Director of Mission Advancement for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. “We are happy to do our part to support efforts by teachers, staff and leaders of La Crosse schools who are deeply committed to addressing these issues.”

Among the grant recipeints was Jeanne Halderson. Halderson is a 7th grade teacher at Longfellow Middle School who received $3,819 to support the purchase of textbooks for every 7th grade social studies teacher in the district to help with education and understanding about diversity issues. Her application was inspired by the story of a small hummingbird who still made a big difference in the community.

Jeanne Halderson accepts a grant from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.

“We are going to purchase books that unify our curriculum into one theme around global citizenship,” Halderson said. “We’re going to study everything from the Holocaust to Hmong culture and other diversity issues. The materials will unify it all into one global citizenship theme so that we can teach our students that even though you are a seventh grader, you can make a difference in the world now and in the future.”

Longellow Middle School Principal Matt Kitzerow earned $6,700 for his staff to participate in the YWCA La Crosse’s Racial Justice Workshops.

“This will really help us make sure that we create a school environment that welcomes all students where kids feel valued and respected,” Kitzerow said.

Matt Kitzerow accepts a grant from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.

He said current events happening across the nation were a factor, but added Longfellow has participated in racial justice training for years.

“I would say the things highlighted in the media make it even more pertinent in our eyes because our kids are watching, and if we are not helping them for healthy opinions and to have equitable perspectives and to be valued in our schools, then we are really missing an opportunity,” Kitzerow said.

Over the past three years, LPEF has now awarded almost $80,000 in grants to advance equity efforts, reflecting a high level of interest and effort by staff in the La Crosse public schools. The 11 grants were chosen from among 13 applications. This special grants program kicks off LPEF’s Gold Star Grants program for the 2020-21 school year.

Here is a brief summary of the 11 equity grants, totaling $26,427:

  • $6,700 to support 3-day sessions for all Longfellow Middle School staff to participate in the YWCA La Crosse’s Racial Justice Workshops. The interactive training, facilitated by racially diverse, skilled local facilitators, seeks to broaden intercultural and interracial awareness and to improve communication among staff, students and families. Recipient: Matt Kitzerow. This grant is underwritten by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
  • $5,700 to purchase materials and books, plus support professional development for teachers at 10 sites (plus the virtual academy) serving 4-year-old and 5-year-old pre-kindergarten students. Children will see themselves depicted positively in literature and classroom toys, plus will have access to art supplies and bandages that match a variety of skin tones. Children will learn what is fair and unfair at an early age, before racism, sexism and ableism begins. Recipients: Jane Erickson and Tanya La Fleur. This grant is underwritten by the Mayo Clinic Health System.
  • $3,819 to support purchase of textbooks for every 7th grade social studies teacher in the District’s three middle schools, tied to new curriculum meeting new state social studies standards. The curriculum incorporates education and understanding about diversity issues, including how to think globally and act locally. The proposal is called “Act Like a Hummingbird,” and references a story about a tiny hummingbird that, despite her small size, makes a huge difference in her community by taking action and convincing other animals to join her in putting out a forest fire. Recipients: Jeanne Halderson, Christina Fenton and Scott Bagniefski. This grant is awarded in honor of Randy Nelson, who recently retired after nine years as Superintendent of Schools.
  • $3,200 to fund a series of professional development sessions for Hamilton/SOTA I Elementary staff. Staff will meet in small discussion groups led by local people of color who are trained to facilitate conversations about bias, history and its impacts on racial disparities, unconscious bias and present-day status of racism. Recipient: Sara Jackson. This grant is underwritten in part by the Richard Swantz Endowment Fund of the La Crosse Community Foundation, a fund which honors the late school superintendent and supports staff development.
  • $3,000 to buy updated sets of novels for small group instruction and independent reading for all three grades at Logan Middle School. New titles will allow students to see themselves represented in books regardless of their racial, ethnic, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation/gender identity. Recipient: Kristy Holinka.
  • $1,600 to buy one multicultural book for each student at Hintgen Elementary School, allowing them to take the book home to read and keep. Recipient: Kris Markworth.
  • $890 to buy a variety of books that promote diversity to be used in a program matching Logan High School students to elementary students. The high school students will serve as a guest reader in an elementary class, providing positive role models and extending kindness along with an appreciation for reading. Recipient: Kelly Jo Kline.
  • $627 to buy books for use by Lincoln/Coulee Montessori/SOTA II staff to read as a group, giving staff a frame of reference to examine policies and practices that may marginalize and hold back children of color, particularly Black students. The book study is the first step in a long-term program that will include Racial Justice training. Recipient: Melissa Murray.
  • $324 to purchase subscriptions to a service that will deliver 2-3 diverse children’s books each month for a year, along with study guides to be used by teachers in 4th and 5th grades at State Road Elementary School. Recipient: Brittney Keach.
  • $317 to buy diverse books for use by Logan High School students with reading deficiencies. Students will get to keep these books with high-interest topics and characters/situations that reflect the various identities of students. Students will experience the joy of owning a book and improve reading skills. Recipients: Hayley McMullen and Kate Keeney.
  • $250 to buy a variety of multicultural books for use in a first-grade classroom at Hintgen Elementary School. Students of various backgrounds will feel recognized, connected and understood when they can relate to strong, positive characters in books. Recipient: Jennifer Thill.

In addition to Gold Star Grants, LPEF provides other support for La Crosse schools, including about $30,000 for Random Acts of Kindness to meet the needs of students in areas such as nutrition, hygiene, clothing, and transportation.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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