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Teachers Benefit from Kohl Foundation Gift

Student and Teacher in Classroom

Two Baraboo teachers got the surprise of the year Tuesday, and it was only the third day of school.

Dr. Michelle Pope-Bartman, a science teacher at the high school, and North Freedom third grade teacher Rochelle Van Den Heuvel both had projects on the nonprofit website that were funded completely and unannounced by the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.

The crowdfunding site is popular among teachers, who use it to ask donors to support things that a school district budget cannot — special trips, nontraditional supplies, and experimental classroom initiatives, for instance.

Both Bartman and Van Den Heuvel were asking for alternatives to the standard classroom chair to help active students learn.

Studies show that students who combine movement with learning are not only better able to focus in class, but retain what they know better as well.

Bartman's Donors Choose request was for every BHS science classroom to have a Simply Fit board, which would allow students to rock and get energy out while safely working at a lab station.

Van Den Heuvel had asked for alternative seating for her third graders, including lap desks, a standing work table, stools, and floor cushions.

Van Den Heuvel already gives students the chance to eschew desks and chairs for time on the floor, at standing desks that she made with bed risers and rocking boards she made at home and paid for herself.

"A small classroom budget just doesn't allow a teacher to create the comfortable environment children need to feel warm, creative, and inspired," she said in her Donors Choose request. "My students will be able to use these versatile materials for every activity, all day long.[...] They will have plenty of choices for where they prefer to learn, and choices lead to happier, productive, and more successful students."

Van Den Heuvel's project was just days away from expiring on the Donors Choose site and had yet to reach its funding goal, when she found out Tuesday morning that the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation had fully funded every classroom request by a Wisconsin teacher on the site.

Her supplies should arrive next week.

"When you're eight years old and you're sitting in a stuffy classroom, it's hard to sit still and focus," she said. "This is so exciting."

Bartman said the Simply Fit boards she'll receive will have a far-reaching impact, as they'll be placed in every science classroom at the high school.

"Our students are fun, creative, intelligent and, sometimes, a bit restless," she said. "For some students, a class period might be interrupted by two trips to the pencil sharpener, four trips to the garbage, two bathroom requests and, of course, an almost constant vibration of arms and legs."

Giving active students a chance to self-regulate their behavior during class by using the boards will not only cut down on distraction, Bartman said, but it will provide better learning opportunities for a wide variety of students.

"Last spring, one of my students brought their Simply Fit board to class, and the change in behavior and learning was dramatic," she said. "Some of my most struggling students were able to engage in group discussions, follow academic instruction, and left my classroom feeling happier and more accomplished."

As a result of the Kohl gift, approximately 600 Wisconsin teachers will receive materials for their 43,000 students -- ranging from health and hygiene items to paper, pencils and books to laptops, musical instruments and microscopes.

"We owe a lot to our teachers and hold enormous hope for our students," Kohl said after announcing the flashfunding. "They are both a constant source of inspiration."

Last Updated: 1/20/17
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