Teachers recount how Fiesta Bowl grants impacted classrooms

Richard Urban

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A student uses a calming app on an iPad purchased with a Wishes for Teachers grant.Photo courtesy of DeAnna Addison

By Richard Urban / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Over the last six years, Fiesta Bowl Charities has made 1,200 teachers’ wishes come true with Wishes for Teachers grants that help with classroom needs.

Public and charter school kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers throughout Arizona are invited in the fall to submit applications detailing a school or classroom need. After the applications are verified, teachers are selected randomly during a three-day “draft” to receive $2,500 grants. Each gets a personal call notifying them.

Overall, Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers has granted $4.7 million to Arizona teachers, impacting more than 500,000 children across the state.

Last November Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers provided $1 million in grants to 400 teachers representing 300 schools in 84 districts across 63 Arizona cities, teaching more than 200,000 students in more than 75 subjects, according to the Fiesta Bowl.

Seven teachers in Pinal County had their wishes granted last fall. With the school year winding down, NewsBreak asked them how the grants impacted their students and their ability to teach. Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

DeAnna Addison, Vista Grande High School special education teacher, Casa Grande.

I work with students who exhibit behavioral, social, and emotional challenges. When I am supporting a student who may be experiencing anxiety or feels overwhelmed, I may choose a calming app on my phone to watch while I guide them through breathing exercises.

I thought it might be helpful if students could view the app on a larger screen such as an iPad. With the Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers grant I was able to order several iPads and cases along with smaller sensory items such as wiggle seats and weighted lap blankets.

Calming apps are different from the typical apps that students utilize. Social media is designed to keep its users engaged by quickly moving from one action to another. This can program the brain to speed up, and that not only affects the way it responds to stimuli, but it also drives a desire to replicate that in other activities.

The calming apps run at a slower pace, which can unconsciously train the brain to move more slowly and deliberately. Using strategies like deep breathing, counting, or looking for specific items in our environment in addition to using the iPads assists in this training piece.

I think most people recognize that iPads are a luxury item, and for a rural community like ours, it sends a positive message to our students and parents when we seek opportunities to bring these types of resources into the classroom.

Kimberly Greer, Imagine Prep Superstition geometry teacher, Apache Junction.

NewsBreak was unable to connect with Ms. Greer, whose wish was to purchase a smartboard to promote hands-on learning.

Sonia Hayes, Cactus Middle School STEM teacher, Casa Grande.

Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers has given me the opportunity to help build up the STEM Program at Cactus Middle School. The grant provided funds to purchase class sets of the Makey Makey invention kits, along with additional supplies to use as each student explores their kits.

It's been awesome to see my students highly engaged using these, trying new things, and being innovative. They have been exploring on their own and encouraging each other.

This has opened more doors to many more projects for both my STEM and science classes. This amazing gift is truly appreciated and will last for many classes to come.

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Wishes for Teachers recipients got a spot in the annual Fiesta Bowl Parade.Photo courtesy of the Fiesta Bowl

Tina Jada, Cactus Canyon Junior High School math teacher, Apache Junction.

I have been a teacher for 23 years, and when I received the phone call that I had been awarded this honor, I was so excited I ran around the school looking for friends to tell.

Teaching has become tougher, but I felt so appreciated the day that I was able to meet other recipients and be a part of the Fiesta Bowl Parade. As I walked down the parade route I felt like a celebrity as people stood, clapped, and cheered for us.

I wish I could give that experience to every teacher as it made me feel like what I do is important, and these people know it. When we were invited to attend a bowl game and walked on the field at halftime, I thought, ‘How can it get better than this?’

Then, I actually received my items at school, and it was better. We purchased a 3D printer, some Sphero balls, and some Dash robots. Kids who are not even in my class come by to see the new things that are going on in my classroom.

It has been hard to get students to have discussions with each other because they were isolated for so long. My students were so excited to become experts on the robots and show the other students in class how to use them.

This is a great opportunity for AVID students and Math Lab students because it gave them a chance to collaborate together with the resources, practice sharing, and converse. (AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a nonprofit college readiness program.)

I hope it inspires other teachers to stretch and try something new.

Peggy Lewis, Mesquite Elementary School special education teacher, Casa Grande.

My 13 students are in a self-contained kindergarten and first-grade special education classroom and face academic, physical, speech/language, and social-emotional challenges.

With the grant money to purchase things for my class, I was able to differentiate my instruction according to the student's individual needs.

My students have many unique needs. Many of them do not have the ability to interact with other children based on their disabilities.

Providing realia, hands-on instruction, and a variation of items helps keep them engaged and focused. I now have students talking who were not talking. I have students sharing with each other.

These are huge skills that they need, and the deficit was intensified with the impact of the pandemic.

In addition, the classroom next door services second and third-grade students in a self-contained classroom, and there is a small passageway between our classes.

We were able to put a sand table and lightbox in there so students in both classes who have sensory needs can use the items as a quiet place. Our classes collaborate now, which is new.

Ariel Page, American Leadership Academy second grade teacher, Florence.

As a new teacher starting off the year with few extra resources, I appreciated the chance to be able to add to my classroom quickly through the grant instead of slowly over time with my own money.

With my grant money, I was able to create a vast classroom library for my students. Our school does not have its own library, so I wanted to create a space in my classroom for my students to grow their love of reading early on in their education. I was able to purchase a variety of different levels of books for them to use every day.

Now that my students have access to a variety of books, they have many opportunities to read throughout the day, especially when they finish their classwork. I try to incorporate a lot of independent reading and read-aloud time in our days. My students love to read to themselves, but also love to listen to me or other students reading to them too.

My students were so excited to receive more books, and each time we had a delivery, they celebrated and were so excited to see what was inside the box.

Our school has a lot of students who don't have many books at home. So, I was so excited to provide them with a space where they can read and learn. I have seen their love of reading grow so much throughout the school year.

Jenny Villarreal, Imagine Coolidge Elementary School reading teacher, Coolidge.

I was a bit shocked and oh so excited when I heard I got the grant. The $2,500 is a lot of money.

I bought items that would increase reading levels and bridge learning gaps caused by COVID-19. I also purchased many enticing rewards to motivate students to increase scores. Now there is some friendly competition going on to earn some of the prizes and much more individual motivation.

It seems to have given the students a new energy and love for school and learning. Many smiles and much joy has happened because of this.

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Richard is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years experience in newspaper and magazine publishing. He has covered topics that include local and state government and politics, courts and crime, environment, business and innovation.

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