Fiesta Bowl Charities have $5,000 grants to 62 East Valley public and private school teachers – half from Mesa – that they can put toward classroom improvements of their choice.
The Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers grants – totaling $1 million – were awarded through a lottery-style drawing to teachers across the state who had submitted requests.
Of awardees in the East Valley, 33 teach in Mesa schools, followed by Gilbert at 14, Chandler with 8, and Queen Creek with 7.
“We are grateful to Fiesta Bowl Charities and DriveTime for awarding 24 Mesa Public Schools educators $5,000 classroom grants,” said district spokeswoman Heidi Hurst. “These funds will provide innovative learning opportunities for students throughout the district.”
Some teachers’ grant requests covered basic classroom items.
For example, Susan Might, a ninth-grade English teacher at Westwood High in Mesa, wanted money for new desks.
Brittany Whiteman, a first-grade teacher at the Liberty Arts Academy, a Mesa charter, wanted “shade for their playground,” according to the charity.
On the other hand, Christy Hegebush, a special education teacher at Chandler Preparatory Academy, “wants to use money to open a school store that her students with special needs can work at to learn valuable life and communication skills,” the charity said.
And seventh-grade social studies teacher Patricia Smith, who works at South Valley Junior High School in Gilbert, plans to use her grant “to create a Civil War trunk of items to give kids a hands-on learning experience about the war.”
GPS spokesperson Dawn Antestenis echoed Hurst’s sentiments toward the additional funds.
“We are delighted that 11 Gilbert Public Schools teachers were successful in their applications for 2019 Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers,” she told the Tribune.
“Every year our students directly benefit from the projects funded by these grants and we are grateful to Fiesta Bowl for this opportunity,” Antestenis added.
Each fall, Arizona public and charter K-12 teachers are invited to fill out an online application to the charity program detailing their school or classroom need.
The Fiesta Bowl organization then selects 200 teachers whose wishes meet certain criteria.
“They’re great examples of the good that Arizona teachers can do for their communities and their students,” a Fiesta Bowl spokesman said. “With many teachers spending their own money to improve classrooms, the Fiesta Bowl decided to lend a hand.”
The program awarded $1 million for the second year in a row.
Over the four years of the program, Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers has granted $3.2 million to Arizona teachers, according to its website, impacting over 150,000 children across the state.
The $1 million grant is believed to be the largest donation to Arizona teachers.
A majority of teacher wishes surround enhancements in technology, reading, music and fitness among other things.
One fifth-grade Mesa Public Schools teacher said she hopes to use her grant toward purchasing mini robots for her fifth-grade classroom.
Dwight Patterson Elementary School’s Janet Bleeker, who has been teaching for 21 years, told the Tribune that she believes her students will benefit from having access to Lenovo – a Chinese multinational computer technology company – Cue robots.
The robots are customizable robots designed for kids interested in coding.
“This past summer, I spent some time focusing on gaining more knowledge in technology and the new programs that are available,” she said.
“We know that in our world of tech — and how things are changing,” she continued. “Coding and computer programming are going to be really important skills for our kids.”
The Cue robot is described by its maker as a tool to help students transition from block-based code to state-machine and text-based programming.
Its mots and sensors work together to provide accurate and “versatile” behavior while reacting in real-time to its surroundings, which coerces kids to build problem-solving skills through coding, engineering and design.
“The kids do all of the programmings,” said Bleeker.
“They tell the robot what to do, create the programs and are then able to see their creation come to life through the robot,” she added. “It includes making the robots move and adding emoji faces to them and colors.”
While the robots cost around $200 a piece, the software needed to operate them is free.
“I’m so grateful and thankful to the Fiesta Bowl organization for this opportunity,” Bleeker said. “We [teachers] have grand ideas and sometimes aren’t able to put them into play in a classroom because of financial restraints.”
In addition to their financial grants, the teachers can march in the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Parade on Dec. 28 and be recognized on-field at the Cheez-It Bowl at Chase Field the day before.