El Granada Science Teacher Bryan Felts
El Granada science teacher Bryan Felts prepares for his 8:30AM class in El Granada on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. Adam Pardee / Review

Cunha Intermediate School teacher Diane Angst’s classroom lights are automatic. But with her classroom empty because of remote learning, no students are moving about to keep them on. During every 50-minute class, Angst’s lights would turn off three times. And sometimes, the sensors didn’t work at all.

“I would have to run to the other side of the room to turn the lights back on,” Angst said.

Despite having never applied for a grant from the Cabrillo Education Foundation before, this year Angst went for it. She explained the issue — that she was losing instructional time and the attention of her students by getting up every quarter of an hour. A simple Google Form later, she got the grant and now has photography lights in her classroom.

Angst is one of 12 local teachers to receive a $1,000 CEF Innovation Grant this year. Hers went to purchasing the lights so her students can see her face all day, with no interruptions. The others went to a variety of needs — from classroom materials to literacy tools to headsets and calculators.

CEF Board Director Stephanie Izzarelli said this year’s grants were redesigned to help fund tools and materials for teachers’ new and varied needs during remote learning. The CEF board approved all 12 applications it received, and the $6,000 remainder will pay for a staff member to provide technology support to teachers.

“We launched it sooner, and made the grant simpler,” CEF Executive Director Corinne Bucher said. “We said: What do you need to teach? Tell us, because we want to support you.”

For Angst, who in her eight years at Cabrillo Unified School District has never pursued a grant, the process was seamless — and she’s now reaching out for more help for her other classroom needs. She teaches drama, language arts and English language development, and said a major challenge of remote learning has been adapting her 3-D teaching style to a 2-D environment.

She uses breakout rooms to get kids comfortable practicing improv and is working double time to create and maintain strong relationships with her students — even while they’re learning from home.

Fourth- and fifth-grade science specialist Bryan Felts is taking on the same challenge. He uses creative strategies like a colorful backdrop, music, videos and even props to keep his students engaged remotely.

“I dressed as a plant last week to go over photosynthesis,” Felts said. “It's really about authenticity and making the experience as close to the real thing as possible.”

Felts has applied for a CEF Innovation Grant for the past three years. It helps him pay for classroom materials like pencils and notebooks and consumable supplies like glue sticks, pipe cleaners and tin foil for his nearly 300 students districtwide. During remote learning, he’s sending these supplies home to students so they can still do hands-on science remotely.

Felts said the key to keeping kids engaged is to inspire them to be curious about the world around them. He likes to start with a question — like, how does a coyote survive on the Coastside? — to get them hooked. Despite his best efforts, he knows remote learning simply isn’t designed for every student and their home environment.

“The most important thing to remember for that is just to meet the students where they're at,” Felts said.

Felts said the money he gets from CEF goes a long way to making his classroom more equitable. Without it, he’d be paying for classroom supplies for hundreds of kids out of his own pocket.

“It allows me to purchase materials across the district so all students have that same experience and same opportunity,” Felts said. “Their funding and grant program has been invaluable.” r

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