SELCO Community Credit Union will begin taking applications on August 15 for its annual SPARK! Creative Learning Grants, and the process will remain open through Sept. 30. The grants are a valuable tool for educators, awarding as much as $1,000 each to K–12 educators across the 27 Oregon counties that SELCO serves.
Now in its 26th year, the SPARK! Creative Learning Grant program was created with the belief that funding should not be an obstacle for educational projects that excite curiosity, deepen understanding and encourage new ways of learning. Whether leading students through a solar robotics project in Burns or teaching students how to use fingerprint kits to solve crimes as part of a forensic science class in Culver, educators have used the SPARK! Creative Learning Grants in unique and exciting ways.
In the 2018-19 school year alone, SELCO awarded $45,587 to 54 teachers across Oregon, a record for the program.
“Creative classes or projects are often the ones that spark a lifelong love of learning,” said Laura Illig, SELCO’s vice president of marketing. “Funding these learning experiences can be difficult, which is why SELCO continues to invest in this program more than a quarter century after we awarded our first grant. Strengthening the educational efforts of our communities has been at the heart of our mission since our beginnings more than 80 years ago, when the credit union was founded by a group of educators as passionate as those we support today.”
SPARK! Creative Learning Grants are awarded to educators with innovative classroom ideas and a need for materials or other resources to get those ideas off the ground. But the success and importance of the SPARK! Creative Learning Grant program is best explained by the educators themselves.
“Without the SPARK! Grant, we wouldn’t have had a forensics class,” said Mark Habliston of Culver Middle School, who used the funds to purchase equipment for fingerprint experiments in a new forensic science class. “We could have studied the materials and observed what other people do, but we didn’t have the means to perform the experiments and practice what we were learning. At our small rural school, students don’t get as much outside experience or exposure to electives as others might. This grant created an elective where kids were learning new skills and having fun, which would have never happened otherwise.”
“So many grants require complex and totally new project development, but I was looking to fund a small project that would spark the enthusiasm of my students. SELCO’s grant was perfect for that,” said Karen Klus of Henry L. Slater Elementary in Burns, who used the grant to purchase kits that help students build solar robots. “I didn’t have the money to do this otherwise. The solar kits required more than reading directions and matching required pieces. Collaboration was the key, and those students that really excelled at these kits had almost celebrity status when their assistance was needed by other groups.”
Daniel Asay, who teaches Digital Media Studies at Santiam Junior/Senior High School in Mill City, used a grant last year to purchase lighting, sound and recording equipment for a Digital Media Studies elective. Visit selco.org/spark to see a video of his students in action.