Students Put Writing Skills to Test

When Mary Emery, Food and Fitness Evaluator at Iowa State University, informed Starmont Principal Mrs. Burrack about an opportunity to involve high school students in grant writing, she jumped on the chance.

“Schools are always for ways to involve students in real world applications and authentic assessment.  This grant-writing project fits those both categories,” said Burrack.

It sounded like a project English teacher, Mrs. Sheryl Nelson, would like to try.

“Mrs. Nelson is a dynamite teacher, and her enthusiasm engaged the students.  The students learned great skills that can be applied beyond the school doors,” said Burrack.

Nelson started the project this past February.

“It provided students with an authentic writing experience to show that writing is important in everyday life,” said Nelson.

Starmont junior Vanessa Nolan explained how students were given ownership from the beginning.

“We were asked to think of something realistic that could improve the community. We searched the Internet to find reliable sources [for grants],” said Nolan.

Students worked in groups based on interests.  Nolan and three other students applied to Midwest Garden Association for upkeep of Starmont’s Butterfly Garden that started in 2008 for special education students.

Some of the other organizations students applied to include— The Iowa Arts Council, Quest Foundation, State Farm Insurance, and the American Water Environmental Program.

The application process kept students busy during class and in study hall throughout the second and third trimester.

“It taught us how to keep organized, and how to talk to members within our community,” said Tyler Goedken, another student applying to Midwest Garden Association with Nolan.

The group needed approval from administrators, in addition to a professional cover letter, objectives, a budget, and an impact statement.  They also had to demonstrate how the community would be involved in the garden.

Nolan explained how it was difficult to propose a budget, mixing and matching what needed—shovels, rakes, benches, and seeds— to as close to $1,000 as possible.

The group completed six to seven drafts of their proposal, and received seven to eight letters of support from teachers.

When asked what she learned from the experience Nolan explained, “How easy it would be to get money if you invest some time in it. There is money out there for many causes.  It takes time.”

Unfortunately the group was not awarded the grant.  The organization informed said they had too many letters of support.  Many of the other students won’t learn until fall if their grants are funded.

This project could serve as a model for other schools throughout the region as the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative looks for ways to build capacity within communities to support access to healthy local food and increased opportunities for physical activity.

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