Musicians in the making

Students at Oakwood Intermediate perform Best Day Of My Life on ukuleles the school received with grant money. The performance was part of a demonstration for donors of the College Station Education Foundation.

It's not uncommon for front office staff and administrators at Oakwood Intermediate to hear ukulele renditions of the same song over and over again for six class periods, but standing before the donors who made such music possible this week, the school's principal said he couldn't be more grateful.

Ukuleles were provided to Oakwood and other elementary and intermediate schools in College Station this year courtesy of one of 52 grants the College Station Education foundation doled out to the district. The foundation awarded $141,000 in grants in November for projects ranging from the creation of an outdoor Head Start classroom to a high school DNA extraction experiment. To showcase a sampling of where the funding went, community donors were bused around to three schools in College Station this week to view demonstrations and hear teachers and students explain what their money went toward.

At Creek View Elementary, donors viewed a new outdoor classroom for Head Start students and "break-out box" teaching material. For the later project, which is inspired by escape rooms, first through sixth graders across College Station solve puzzles to figure out the combinations to locks on a box.

"The kids have to find clues all over the room based on concepts they've been learning in class," said Dawn Newton, whose students at Creek View Elementary demonstrate to donors what the game looks like.

At Oakwood Intermediate, donors saw the CO2 cars, or wooden cars propelled by carbon dioxide. Students have been making wooden cars of all different sizes and shapes for a while -- the principal says you can see a trail of wood shavings around school when the cars are being made -- but the grant money enabled the school to buy the equipment to launch and accurately test the aerodynamics of their cars.

On Tuesday, a handful of students walked donors through how to use the equipment and explained which types of cars they have found go the fastest through the process of experimentation.

Ukuleles came to the school as part of a grant for elementary and intermediate schools in the district.

"I have chills just thinking about it -- thinking about all the kids and their smiles," said Theresa Kendall, music teacher. "There's no way we can say thank you enough."

At A&M Consolidated High School, advanced biotechnology teacher Chad Bronowski walked donors through the project he received funding for. The project culminates in an activity where students are given a sample of a fish and tasked with identifying the type of fish by extracting DNA from and comparing the sequence of the DNA to others in a database.

"I was able to take a lot of complex topics that we cover in biotechnology like DNA sequencing... and give it to students in a hands on activity," Bronowski said.

Across the school, Nikki Graff walked donors through how a grant for an embroidery machine and supplies has helped Career Prep, the vocational-minded special education class she teaches. With equipment like the embroidery machine, she said students are able to create monogrammed and embellished goods that the class can sell, and, in turn, learn the hands-on skills associated with running a business.

"They are going to develop the brand," Graff said. "That's the big picture -- them doing the Facebook page, them creating a website, emailing people -- it's to work on various aspects of independent living. ... Aspects that come so basic to us may not for them."

Magaly Rivera, Neighbors Emergency Center marketing liaison, was among the group of donors as the emergency center has donated money to the next round of grants. She said the project hit home as she has a sister with down syndrome who is looking for similar independent-living programs.

"Anything like that is very near to my heart," she said.

For Teresa Benden, Education Foundation director, this reaction -- along with the understanding of how important grants are to schools -- is what the foundation hopes to evoke out of the event.

"The purpose of today's event was really to let our donors see the impact that their donations are making on our students and our teachers directly in our classrooms," she said.

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