Racial justice training, diverse books and classroom materials funded through $26,400 in LPEF grants

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).

Patricia Ruda, right, coordinator of the Justice & Peace Program of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, presents a grant to Matt Kitzerow, principal of Longfellow Middle School.

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, helping students understand diversity and to learn to think globally and act locally.

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.”

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. Grants are selected for funding based on creativity, ability to engage students, and the total impact or reach of the project. 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.
  • Jeanne Halderson, left, a 7th-grade teacher at Longfellow Middle School, accepts her grant from LPEF Board Member Heidi Odegaard.

    $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. This grant is underwritten in part by Dairyland Power Cooperative.
  • $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. This grant is underwritten by State Bank Financial.
  • Superintendent of Schools Aaron Engel answers media questions about the importance of the equity efforts in the School District of La Crosse.

    $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. This grant is awarded in honor of Kathy Wilhelmy, who retired in June as a kindergarten teacher at State Road after 14 years with the District.
  • $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 needs of students in areas such as nutrition, hygiene, clothing, and transportation. LPEF’s mission is to enhance learning opportunities for students in the School District of La Crosse and to promote support for public education. For more information, contact LPEF at 787-0226, or email David Stoeffler at: david@lacrosseeducationfoundation.org.