Mama Madison: Hop aboard the grants tour

Giving money for special MMSD programs

There was Mayor Dave's ill-fated proposal to incorporate them in to Madison's infrastructure a few years back. And Judy Garland did have that shining moment in Meet me in St. Louis. But on the whole, trolleys aren't exactly top-of-mind when it comes to transportation options. It is 2011, after all.

But last week, my image of the quaint streetcar was changed for the better. I was fortunate enough to accompany the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools board and staff on their annual Grants Tour"aboard a Badger Bus Trolley. With balloons and oversized checks in hand, we rode all around the city delivering over $52,000 in award money to unsuspecting MMSD teachers and staff for highly creative and innovative programs.

Our first stop was Sherman Middle School where a class full of 6th graders was on hand to surprise their teacher, Susan Curtis, with the good news. Her Africa Connects grant will create a curriculum based on the African collections at the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW campus. The program will have Shabazz High school students model service learning presentations to Sherman students who will then present their African projects to students from their feeder elementary schools. What a fabulous idea -- an educational version of "paying it forward." Giving away money -- this was fun. Ed McMahon and Publisher's Clearinghouse had nothing on this Trolley Tour.

Next stop was East High, where we shocked grateful recipient, Cynthia Chin (East Area Energies grant) during a Fine Arts Week assembly. We were also treated to an incredibly powerful Spoken Word performance. Passionate student poetry recited aloud. I have a grant idea for next year.

We then hit the Doyle Building where I got to deliver the balloon bouquet to a district administrator for his proposal that will allow Madison teachers the opportunity to attend Edgewood College's Sustainability Leadership Conference. And then on to Shorewood and Crestwood Elementary Schools where grants were awarded for much needed resources -- quality LGBTQ literature and anti-bullying programs, respectively.

Hopping back on the trolley, we headed over to Thoreau. These teachers received a grant to measure the impact of using disco-sits, stability balls and rocking chairs for academic and behavioral improvement in the classroom. Seemed like a good idea given the first-grade energy in the room when we presented the award.

The Trolley's last stop of the day was Toki Middle School, where teachers Carlene Bechen and Brandon Tewalt won for developing the Expeditionary Learning Model. It's an interdisciplinary concept where students will develop questions based on community issues and then apply core academic areas, like science and writing, to answer those questions. Based on the unbelievably thoughtful interrogation by the students upon hearing the news, I know in my heart this will be money well spent. If all goes according to plan, this program could even become a model for other schools in the district.

As we boarded back up for the last time that day, I had a quick flashback to yet another special trolley I had long since forgotten"the one from PBS' Mr. Roger's Neighborhood ( Fred Rogers once said, "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."

I was privileged to enjoy a "beautiful day in the neighborhood" with heroes last week.

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