3 WNY teachers win State Farm grant for creative teaching during the pandemic

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(WIVB)– The pandemic has created a unique situation for teachers who now have to step outside the box and connect with their students. For three teachers from WNY, that situation is now a little easier thanks to a $2,500 grant from State Farm’s Teacher Assist program.

Joseph Ward of Cayuga Heights Elementary created a remote Kindergarten for his students, purchasing the Seesaw classroom app, musical instruments, and other digital devices so that his kindergarteners complete assignments in a unique and creative way.

“I really believe that when kids can be immersed in technology they can do amazing things and it can show can showcase their learning in many different ways. Just getting those kids out of their routine and they get to be in charge.The best of themselves come out.”

Patrick Uhteg, also a teacher at Cayuga Heights, is creating a Puppet Theater with “Chef Hugo”, a puppet he uses as a teaching tool. He makes short, educational videos for his students, featuring the well-loved puppet, focusing on Math, and highlighting caring, compassion, and confidence.

“So my idea for the grant was to create a theater, buy a mess of puppets, build a small stage, a green screen, and use that for teachers and for students and prepare short videos and the content o can be anything from character education, caring and understanding, all the way down to how to minimize fractions. Because anyone can agree, especially over zoom, that a muppet or a puppet is more engaging and more fun than is a teacher.”

Roberta Faery of Newfane Middle School chose to use her funds to help maintain the school’s apple orchard.  Students can get hands-on learning and hear from local experts on how to best use fertilizers and pesticides.  She says digital learning is not for all students and this gives them the chance to thrive in an environment where they can create tangible outcomes.

“The restoration of the apple orchard would allow for those students to get their hands dirty again.  The Local Learning curriculum provides opportunities for the students to have agency in what they learn.  It connects students to their community through local experts and on-site experiences.   Efforts to protect and maintain these fruit trees not only gives students ownership but creates responsibility for the fruit they will produce.”

The State Farm Teachers Assist program has donated a total of $100,000 to New York classrooms.

Kelly Khatib is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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