In for a Penny

February 2023

Operation Round Up Makes Big Change for Local Students

For a first-year teacher like Ana Palomino, there is a lot about the job that can feel daunting. Finding a lesson plan that will educate and engage, giving students the tools they need to succeed and doing it all within a tight budget can be a challenge.

But one of the first pieces of advice she got from her colleagues at Lafayette High School was to take advantage of Operation Round Up funds offered by Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative.

“I heard about it through the grapevine because a lot of teachers here take advantage of it,” Palomino says. “At first it was a little intimidating because writing a grant sounds scary. But they walked me through the process, and it was super easy.”

The Round Up program rounds up participating members’ electric bills to the next dollar. The average contribution program-wide is 50 cents per month. But when put together across the entire cooperative, that pocket change can add up to make a real impact for local students, as Palomino found out.

She put her grant money toward lab materials so her seventh grade earth, space and environmental science students could get a hands-on experience with the subjects they were reading about. Clay and flashlights she purchased let students simulate and study eclipses. She bought lab equipment for a “What’s in the box?” activity early in the year, where students would feel a hidden object and make scientific deductions.

“We were learning about empirical evidence and not making judgments based on what we think something is but what we can directly observe,” Palomino says. “Some of the materials were liquids or something that could dye their clothes, so I had them use the aprons, gloves and goggles, and they loved that. They felt like real scientists.”

As a result, Palomino says, her students are much more engaged with the material they’re learning about and get excited whenever they see that there’s an experiment listed on the classroom agenda.

“Honestly, it’s amazing,” she says. “I get chill bumps just talking about it. It’s so much more than just reading in a textbook and taking notes. Obviously, there’s a time and place for that, but as much as possible I try to get their hands dirty so they can grapple with their own ideas and problem-solve. And I think for my class that is only possible through grants like this.”

In Focus

Joanne Marcil didn’t apply for an Operation Round Up grant. But Elizabeth Mitchell, her predecessor as special education teacher for the Hamilton County School District, did. After seeing the impact Round Up funds and the supplies purchased with them have had on her classroom, Marcil says it’s an opportunity she’ll definitely take advantage of in the future.

“The special education program has been revamped, and we’re starting fresh. The stuff I used when I moved in is mostly what Operation Round Up bought, because there wasn’t much,” Marcil says. “Some stuff I even bought with my own money because the school can’t afford it. So I’m very thankful to Operation Round Up.”

Many of the supplies the grant paid for are to help Marcil’s students learn life skills that will be useful on a daily basis. Those include sheets for in-class practice making a bed and doing laundry, fake money for learning how to count cash, and toys that teach them how to use zippers and buttons and tie their shoes. There are also learning tools that keep her students engaged, like Hot Dots pens, which make noises when they get an answer right, and an interactive globe.

Maybe the most helpful purchase has been sets of headphones. Because some of her students are autistic, loud noises can be distracting and upsetting. But the headphones help them focus even when loud work is going on nearby.

“The headphones are great, because the kids can go into their own personal apps and not be bothered by the noises around them,” Marcil says. “Right now they’re redoing the gutters outside, and it can be disturbing to some. But when they put on their little headphones, they’re good.”

The Sound of Music

Until recently, the only instruments Suwannee Pineview Elementary music teacher Tammy Michal could offer her students were percussion. Xylophones, drums and rhythm sticks were helpful, but they could only take her students’ musical understanding so far. And most of the instruments had been around since the school was built in 2006.

That’s why, last year, she used an Operation Round Up grant to buy recorders for her students. Similar to flutes, these wind instruments are the first many of her students have had the chance to play, and they give the class an opportunity to perform together and individually.

“It’s great to facilitate teamwork and listening,” Michal says. “They’re all putting the musical skills that they’ve learned previously such as rhythm and reading notes together. I think it turns on a completely different switch for them.”

In the past, Michal didn’t want to consider a recorder unit if every student wouldn’t have the chance to participate.

She also knows the importance of music programs for helping students improve their performance across the board with reading, math, hand-eye coordination, team building and more.

“There are just so many advantages to learning an instrument and being part of a music program,” she says. “So I am very thankful that we have a supportive school board here in Suwannee County and that we’re blessed with grants like this.”