By Sonia Clark | AIG Teacher | Ballentine Elementary School
As I’m looking at my WakeEd Partnership Teacher Innovation Grant, I am reflecting on how it has changed our school, the lives of our students and our community. I am so overwhelmed with emotions that I cannot begin to fill out the form. Instead, I feel compelled to write to you and tell you where we are in our journey. You know us, you know me and yet, you don’t know the latest chapter in our story. The pebble that you threw into our pond has rippled well beyond our borders and has inspired new hopes and dreams.
Four years ago, my students and I sat with a few volunteers and laptops that were better suited as door stops, learning together how to build and program the few robots that we possessed with FIRST LEGO League (FLL). It was then that WakeEd Partnership provided robots and new laptops (ones that actually work!) so that we could expand to include more students, learn more and compete with much more rigor. That started the ripple. We gained community support in the form of volunteers and financial partners. A wave started, we were able to purchase more robots and our program expanded. With that expansion the students exceeded expectations, created unique inventions, won regional and state competitions and even received national recognition. Our program continued its expansion to include the full spectrum of diversity within our school and community. There were countless stories that poured out from parents and volunteers of children who overcame obstacles, achieved and experienced successes in just a few short months during our program. It made my heart so happy. But still everyone couldn’t participate. We were targeting our 4th and 5th grade students. My goal was to be inclusive of everyone.
This year, the LEGO Foundation joined us with a grant that has made it possible for every 2nd and 3rd grade student at Ballentine Elementary to be part of a FIRST LEGO League JR team. So each and every student can build and program a robot, can research and explain what a quality source would be. They can give a presentation in front of others and work collaboratively. We have teachers volunteering to be coaches because they see how student behaviors improve with FLL. Every 2nd through 5th grade student can build and program a robot at Ballentine. And we can’t forget our special needs friends. They work with LEGO Bricks and robots to. Can you believe how much has changed in just a few years? That was some pebble!
So you see, as I think about writing a WakeEd Partnership Teacher Innovation Grant, I need to consider carefully where I want to throw a pebble. Your pebbles can make a mighty big wave. I am so incredibly humbled, and honored to have been given the opportunity to ride this wave these past few years. So thank you, again and again and again. Keep throwing pebbles and changing lives for kids and communities.