The Oklahoma Fund for Teachers has announced the establishment of an annual teacher professional development grant in honor of Broken Arrow High School environmental science teacher Donna Gradel, the current reigning Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and a top-four finalist for National Teacher of the Year.
Gradel, a two-time Fund for Teachers fellow, was honored at a recent reception at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in Oklahoma City. The event was hosted by the national Fund for Teachers, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Tulsa Community Foundation, which partner to administer Oklahoma Fund for Teachers grants.
Gradel received a framed certificate announcing the establishment of the Donna Gradel Fund for Teachers Fellowship, which will provide a professional development opportunity for an Oklahoma teacher who, like Gradel, is “helping students become problem solvers and world changers.”
During the reception, Gradel shared how her Fund for Teachers fellowships to Kenya in 2012 and 2015 helped lay the groundwork for student projects to provide clean water and high protein foods for children suffering from protein deficiency. She described how she engaged students in problem-solving design projects and took student groups to Kenya to build a large-scale aquaponics system and, later, a fish-food system. Last summer, she returned to Kenya with a third student group to build a chicken coop and chicken-food harvesting facility. Her students are now preparing for a large-scale production of low-cost sustainable fish and chicken food with the goal of helping thousands of children suffering from protein deficiency.
“My students who worked on these projects and those who were able to travel to Kenya will never be the same,” Gradel said. “Their trajectory in life has changed. They have the mindset that they can make a difference in the world. They have the confidence and grit it takes to work on solving relevant real-world problems.”
The Fund for Teachers Reception also recognized a new tribal alliance comprised of the Chickasaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who are helping support grants for 27 teachers through the 2019 Oklahoma Fund for Teachers Program.
“The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence recognizes the tremendous positive influence Native American tribes are to our state’s educational endeavors,” said Foundation President Cathryn Render, explaining that the foundation reached out to tribes with the goal of encouraging teachers with Native American tribal membership to apply for Fund for Teachers fellowships. “We are very proud of these five founding members for stepping up to recognize the value of the amazing Fund for Teachers program. And of course, we are delighted that over 23 percent of the fellows selected this year were indeed tribal members.”
Gradel also thanked the Tribal Alliance for the investment they are making in Oklahoma teachers. “You are going to get an amazing return on that investment in the form of greater engagement in the classroom and greater learning potential for our students.”
Since 2002, more than 1,000 Oklahoma teachers have received Fund for Teachers grants totaling over $3.6 million, providing self-designed summer professional development experiences in the United States and around the world. In 2006, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to offer grants to educators statewide when the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence joined the national Fund for Teachers and the Tulsa Community Foundation as state partners. Fund for Teachers fellowships empower teachers to explore their academic passions, deepen their scholarship and enhance their craft, said Karen Webb, executive director of the national Fund for Teachers.
“Through experiential learning, bold experimentation and the realization of personal ambition, teachers are better equipped to impart tools and skills which serve their students far beyond the boundaries of the classroom,” Webb said. “Fund for Teachers knows that good teachers become great teachers when they have the resources to explore their subject matter in the real world and translate it to their students and communities.”
For information on the Fund for Teachers program and 2019 fellows, visit www.fundforteachers.org.