Every year, the La Crosse Public Education Foundation awards thousands of dollars in Gold Star Grants to help schools meet their challenges.
This year, the La Crosse Public Education Foundation received 28 applications. Those applications were reviewed and based on creativity, student engagement, and total impact of the project. A lucky 15 applicants were selected for grant money totaling $29,000.
Ginny Abbott is a seventh grade student at the La Crosse Design Institute. Her classroom received a Gold Star Grant.
"My first reaction was, 'Yay! I get to spend more than a half hour in the VR, virtual reality, headset.,'" Abbott said.
Maggie McHugh brought virtual reality into her classroom for two weeks through a partnership with the Pump House. The $3,050 Gold Star Grant will allow McHugh to buy her own virtual reality software.
"Careers in design and innovation--I'm looking at the movie industry--has been using virtual reality devices to create new people and characters in movies," McHugh said.
Another $1,000 Gold Star Grant for Longfellow Middle School and La Crosse Design Institute band students will fund a special jazz arrangement composed for middle school musicians.
"It's got to be easy enough that the kids see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it has to be challenging enough and engaging enough for them to want to work at it and play it," said Chip Schreader, band director and grant recipient.
Whether it is $400 or $4,000, those with the La Crosse Public Education Foundation say it is all about the students.
"We're trying to provide the extras, the things that teachers have cool ideas they'd like to pursue," said David Stoeffler, Executive Director of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation. "Things that regular school budgets wouldn't be able to afford."
Those things set students in the La Crosse School District apart from other school districts.
"They blow my mind," McHugh said. "Honestly, I don't think I know what's going to happen, but I know that by providing students the tools, they're going to take everything to the next level."
It sets students, like Ginny Abbott, up for future success.
"You can just create things," Abbott said. "Your imagination is the limit."
Stoeffler says part of the excitement is surprising the grant recipients. He says for those teachers it is recognition for their creative ideas to help students.
McHugh plans to use the grant for a wireless virtual reality software that will be ready in September. The jazz ensemble will perform their commissioned arrangement next spring.
The money for Gold Star Grants comes from generous donors in the community and fundraising events.