A Penny Saved

Posted: February 14, 2020

Operation Round Up® adds up to big change for schools in its first year

Wynette Sumner, 5th grade teachers at Brandford Elementary
Wynette Sumner, 5th grade teachers at Brandford Elementary, uses the iXL program to help students with math.

In just its first year, Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s Operation Round Up® has already proven the collective difference small contributions from our individual members can make. In 2019, the cooperative collected more than $100,000 that went toward 224 grants for equipment and materials that directly benefit students in local classrooms.

For Michelle Lord, vice president of the Operation Round Up® board, the program is a reminder of the biblical story about the widow who dropped just two small coins in the offering box. It was the spirit in which the offering was made, not the amount, that made it significant.

“SVEC members who participate in Operation Round Up® recognize that many teachers pay out of their own pocket to improve the learning environment in our schools,” Lord says. “Each member contributes less than a dollar a month, but it adds up. Collectively, we can help teachers get valuable tools for teaching our kids.”

While school budgets cover basic expenses, many local teachers pay for additional items for their classroom with their own money. Operation Round Up® gives teachers the opportunity to purchase items that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

“As a smaller school district, we don’t have as many optional funds for extra things our teachers might need,” says Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rex Mitchell. “So anytime we can receive funding from a private entity like SVEC, it allows us to use those funds as teachers need them.”

PERSONALIZED CURRICULUM

Destiny Douglas and Kejuan Robinson work with a glass distillation set-up in Jay Jolicoeur’s chemistry class.
Destiny Douglas and Kejuan Robinson work with a glass distillation set-up in Jay Jolicoeur’s chemistry class.

One of the biggest frustrations Wynette Sumner, a fifth grade teacher at Branford Elementary, hears from parents is that they don’t know how to help their kids with math. So, when she heard about the opportunity to apply for grants through
Operation Round Up®, she knew it was a chance to address that problem by purchasing access to IXL, a subscription based online learning site for math, language arts, science and more.

“If a student gets a problem wrong, it not only tells them that but also shows them how to fix it step-by-step,” she says. “When I show it to parents, they love it because it helps them help their kids learn.”

In the classroom, the site gives Sumner the flexibility to adjust the level of difficulty for each student. She can have children who are struggling work on lower-grade problems to build their way up to fifth grade math, while students who aren’t being challenged can try their hand at sixth or seventh grade problems.

IXL even comes with a feature that lets her see what each student is working on in real time, making it easier to identify which students need personalized help. IXL has also proven to be an invaluable tool for making sure students retain the knowledge they gained from past units.

“I’ll have them go back and do things we covered a few months ago to make sure they aren’t forgetting geometry or fractions,” Sumner says. “I see it working, and I can’t thank SVEC enough for letting us do this.”

TOOLS FOR THE JOB

Ashley Sullivan’s 5th grade class at LaFayette Elementary.
Ashley Sullivan’s 5th grade class at LaFayette Elementary.

In Jay Jolicoeur’s chemistry lab at Suwannee High School, figuring out how to conduct experiments with the available equipment could sometimes be more of a challenge than teaching the material itself.

“A lot of times you wouldn’t have exactly what you needed, so you’d have to shift different pieces and parts to do labs,” he says. “You’d be using equipment for purposes it wasn’t designed for, and that doesn’t teach proper technique.”

While the school district has worked hard to provide the equipment Jolicoeur has requested, Operation Round Up® presented an opportunity to purchase some bigger-ticket items that might not be in the budget. He was able to buy organic glassware sets, balances, spectrophotometers and a variety of other lab equipment that allows his AP chemistry students to get the hands-on experience they need.

“It opens up a number of doors for them,” Jolicoeur says. “It prepares them to score well on the AP test and gives them some experience working with good equipment. That will benefit them if they go to college and go into a science field. It’s just huge.”

TAKE A SEAT

Sitting in a Lafayette Elementary School faculty meeting several years ago, Ashley Sullivan realized she was losing focus due to the uncomfortable classroom seats. When she found a place to stand in the corner, she felt more attentive.

“It got me thinking that I don’t sit for the stretch of time we have kids sit in hard chairs during the day,” she says. “As adults, we all have different positions or places we work better in. So do kids.”

She tried an idea out with her second grade class, purchasing crates, stools, beanbag chairs and more for students to
choose from. There was only one rule: If you aren’t getting your work done, you get moved. Sullivan says the majority of her classroom behavior issues disappeared when she started using flexible seating.

“Kids aren’t given a lot of choices in their day. But by giving them an option of where they could sit, as simple as it sounds, it gave them a little bit of power, and the attitude change was drastic,” she says.

With Operation Round Up® funds, Sullivan was able to purchase new flexible seating for her growing students, who are now in fifth grade. She also purchased a bookshelf and books that appeal to her students, igniting a new passion for reading that she hopes will build their vocabulary and serve them throughout life.

“Just having that bookshelf and some new books created a lot of excitement,” Sullivan says. “It goes back to attitude, which is as important for teachers as it is for students. When you feel like you’re being supported and that someone in your community values what you’re doing, that goes a long way for adults, as well.”