Grants Run Gamut of Classroom Needs

Teachers Pat Sinen, left, and Cindy Donahue received a grant to buy calming devices for their students

Thanks to the district’s fundraising arm, Cindy Donahue and Pat Sinen will be able to purchase weighted blankets and other calming devices for Alto Elementary students with special needs. Middle school teachers Jason Lake and Scott Hall will add an earthquake simulator meant to test sixth-graders’ ability to build strong structures and STEM skills. And Jacquelyn Fliehman will get to buy an electric guitar and amplifier that will make it possible for music students to rock the halls of Murray Lake Elementary.

Those are three of 16 requests, totaling nearly $21,000 in funding, that were approved recently by the Lowell Education Foundation.

Sinen, an occupational therapist, and Donahue, a special education teacher, work in a classroom that has high-needs students including several with autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.

Alto Elementary student Ava Candela calms herself with a weighted blanket

“The teacher has a small tent that the students can go into with the weighted blanket on them,” Sinen said. “Students have learned that this is a place to calm down, and then they are ready to come out and join the group for learning.”

Before these tools were available, Sinen explained, “students’ sensory systems were disorganized, and they were having a difficult time making sense of their environment. In general, these few sensory tools have provided the class the ability to increase attention and focus for academics.”

Sinen said more students than ever are having difficulties with attention and focus for learning.

“If it weren’t for these grants, there would not be sensory tool lending libraries for teachers to access tools for general and special education students in all our elementary schools,” she said. “The LEF is a true treasure.”

The Lowell Education Foundation has raised more than $350,000 since it was formed in 1995 to help fund efforts not included in the district’s operating budget.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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