By Meg Spencer
Many young professionals in Florence, Oregon, end up leaving when their children reach school age, seeking greener educational pastures for their kids. Our club began to think about how we could help our schools keep those bright young families around.
We came up with the idea of a Continuing Professional Education Fellowship program, modeled after a national teacher grant program we had seen, to help teachers pursue professional development.
Each year, our club offers two $2,000 fellowships to teachers and other professionals serving the community who are interested in improving their skills. Seven years after its launch, the program is thriving. Here are some of the results:
- A middle school science teacher attended a graduate-level course at Portland State University focused on engineering and design education. He now leads a robotics club, and his students are award-winning robotics “engineers” who use Legos and other materials to design new projects. His classroom not only introduces young people to science, technology, engineering, and math skills, it is also a fun place where students are better prepared for the workplace of the future.
- An elementary-school teacher who was struggling to engage the highest and lowest achievers in her classroom used our funding to attend a national conference about using tablets to manage differentiated learning. This approach advocates the use of small workstations throughout a classroom where students can learn in different ways — using a computer or tablet, touching or interacting with objects, engaging in discussion, or pursuing individual study.
- A teacher of Spanish was able to travel to Guatemala with members of the advanced Spanish class (who raised their own funds for the trip).
- A counselor received training to teach women and children how to deal with domestic abuse, and the organization that provided the training also provides similar support for the Siuslaw School District staff.
- A teacher received training to offer an advanced-placement literature and composition course at Florence’s high school, which significantly improved resources available to students planning to go on to college.
- Our elementary school music teacher was able to attend professional conferences.
We use a simple application and reporting process that keeps the program attainable for busy professionals. We look for teachers and staff in local nonprofits who want to improve their professional skills and who can present a plan, which becomes our contract with them. Fellowship recipients are expected to remain with their employer for at least a year.
As Rotarians, we have many opportunities to help our communities overcome challenges. Our club uses this simple grant program to help the teachers who educate our children and the professionals working with vulnerable populations to do their jobs better.
Contact me to find out more about our program: firstname.lastname@example.org. How are you using your vocation to improve your community?
About the author: Meg Spencer is director of the Siuslaw Public Library District and a member of the Rotary Club of Florence, Oregon, USA. Meg has a Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Actors Training Program, and a commitment to bringing people and information together.