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Classroom wishes granted:Three Flagstaff teachers receive $2,500
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Classroom wishes granted:Three Flagstaff teachers receive $2,500

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Cooking supplies. Lab equipment. Furniture.

When Flagstaff educators Taylor Doren, Tom Talasek and Leah Claypool were asked to share their classroom wish, these are the things they asked for — and what they will be able to purchase using $2,500 in grant funding they were each awarded last week.

These grants are provided through the Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers program, which randomly selects 200 Arizona teachers who submit an online application describing the wish they have for their classroom. Since the program was founded in 2016, it has distributed more than $3.2 million to teachers in 400 different Arizona schools, including several in Flagstaff.

“It’s awesome to see what work teachers are doing,” said Mike Nealy, Fiesta Bowl Executive Director. “The common denominator is that it’s for the kids and what they’re doing to help these kids have the best education they can try and deliver.”

He explained that grant recipients are chosen randomly to reduce the amount of work needed from teachers to apply.

Desert Financial Credit Union, which plans to expand to Flagstaff soon, is the title sponsor of Wishes for Teachers this year. President and CEO Jeff Meshey said that because the credit union was founded by a group of teachers, supporting teachers is a natural part of the company’s legacy.

“Teachers aren’t doing what they do to make a lot of money, they’re doing it because it’s what they love to do. It’s just great that our kids have teachers that want to be there and are doing what they love,” Meshey said. “And I think programs like this help with that. It also brings attention to the needs that schools have. Some of these things won’t be approved in a budget, but they’re needed. I know many teachers have gone out of pocket to buy supplies and other things just to keep things running, and that’s really not fair to them and we need to support that.”

Meshey personally called several applicants, including Claypool, to announce that their wishes had been granted — wishes that, at least for Flagstaff’s three winners, existed before the pandemic but are even more pronounced now.

Cooking supplies

Doren, a special education teacher with Knoles Elementary School’s Beacon program, leads cooking lessons for her students every Friday, and has become more like a cooking show host in recent months as she now leads these lessons using Zoom.

Every week, she sends home all the ingredients her students and their families will need to complete the lessons, which have always been a favorite among her students. This year students have learned recipes including macaroni and cheese, pancakes and pumpkin pie.

“It’s definitely their favorite thing that we do in school and on Zoom,” Doren said. “A lot of them are picky eaters, so I’ve gotten some kids to try things that they normally would never think about trying because I think they have that control because they made it, so they know what went into it.”

When Doren first began teaching at Knoles six years ago, she started these lessons with small, no-bake coking projects, then gradually expanded to those that required a toaster oven and hot plate donated to the classroom by herself and a colleague. With her $2,500, she plans to equip her classroom as if it were a small restaurant, with all the tools needed to make a family meal: a small oven, countertop dishwasher, stainless steel work table and additional utensils.

She said she also hopes to use some of the funds to help support ingredient costs, which have risen this year as a result of sending all ingredients home to families.

“I just think it’s an important life skill that everybody should know how to do because you meet kids in college who don’t even know how to cook, so I think learning early is important,” Doren said. “I think it also empowers them to feel independent. That’s my main goal as their teacher is to foster independence and get them to a point where some of them can eventually to be able to live on their own and have a job.”

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Lab equipment

Tom Talasek has been teaching at Basis Flagstaff for four years and has been hoping to invest in a new microscope and spectrophotometer for his chemistry and forensics classes. He knew of a few previous Wishes for Teachers winners at his school and decided to apply, as he has done in the past, in the hopes of funding these costly instruments. This time, though, his name was chosen.

“I’m thrilled and honored to have been selected. Of course we can always use money for classroom resources. I can’t ever buy everything I want, but I can certainly make a dent in what we need with the $2,500,” Talasek said, explaining the cost of the microscope itself is $1,000, while the spectrophotometer is $500. And they will require additional accessories.

Historically, his students have used these two instruments during their in-class experiments to take a look at samples and to measure the concentration of different substances in a solution, based on the light they absorb.

Hands-on experiments using such instruments are simply not possible through remote learning, though.

So Talasek’s modifying his classroom wish to apply to a microscope and spectrometer that will connect to his computer, to allow his students to see the results without being physically in the classroom.

“They miss getting to do actual laboratories, so this is going to give us an opportunity where they can at least experience it visually when we do that. Right now, we talk about things in laboratories, but they can’t really see it as it’s going on because they’re not here,” Talasek said. “This will give me the capability of showing them what I’m looking at or what analysis I’m running.

“My students are always very curious and to have an opportunity to bring something new into the classroom, it just further excites them.”

Library furniture

This year marks Leah Claypool’s eighth as a librarian at DeMiguel Elementary School and her second as a Wishes for Teachers recipient. Last year, she spent the funds on a subscription-based (and rather expensive) reading program for students to determine their reading level and provide activities like comprehension and vocabulary quizzes at that level.

Alongside this program, to further encourage students to develop a love for reading, Claypool tracks the number of words students read and holds parties for those who reach a million words for older students and 100,000 words for the younger students.

“We make a big deal out of it,” she said.

This year, though, the physical layout of the library itself is in need.

“We opened in 1989 and I have the original tables and chairs, so they’re pretty old. They’re very sturdy, but they’re hard to move and they’re getting kind of worn,” Claypool said. “And with COVID, it might be nice to have something that I can move around so I can separate the kids so that they have that 6 feet between them, if they let them come back to the library. I’m hoping for it.”

She hopes to invest in new furniture that will not only be easy to move, but also easier to clean than the library’s current wood tables and chairs, in order to make those who seek refuge in the library feel safe and comfortable.

“It’s always about encouraging them to read and to love reading and to love books because elementary school is when you do that. If you don’t love books and love to read, then you get into middle school, high school, college and all you’re doing is reading for school and not for the joy of it, but I think if you learn how to read for the joy when you’re young, then you’ll always go back to it,” Claypool said.

“I’m so very grateful to the Fiesta Bowl Charities. Every teacher should apply for this because I know we all spend a lot of our own money and could use a little help.”

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.

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