Whether letting their voices soar out over the audience during a performance, playing a perfect French horn solo, or simply being able to spell out a word in class, all students have reasons to express themselves. Teachers at the Hermiston School District had a variety of projects in mind when applying for grants from the Hermiston Education Foundation, but all had the basic goal of helping their students create and communicate.
Karly Carlson, a special education teacher in Highland Hills’ Life Skills program, received a grant to purchase an app that will help her students with verbal communication issues be able to interact with others.
The app is called “PECS,” or Picture Exchange Communication System. Students can customize it as needed, to speak words or phrases that they want to say. Many of the already-downloaded words come with pictures, or students can take their own to go along with the words they add.
“Most of my students are nonverbal,” Carlson said. “But as we know, just because we can’t speak doesn’t mean we don’t have things to say.”
Highland Hills will use the grant money from HEF, about $230, to purchase the app for two iPads for use in the Life Skills classroom.
Carlson said some students have the app on their personal tablets, and she can see it being useful both in and outside of school.
During the school day, she plans to have students program spelling words or comprehension questions specific to the lesson on the tablets.
Highland Hills principal Jake Bacon said when he observed Carlson teaching, all the students were able to respond to her questions with the use of the app.
Outside of school, Carlson said the app can benefit students in daily communication.
“I could see it being really useful for kids who want to order something at a restaurant,” she said. “For a person who can’t communicate in traditional ways, that’s huge.”
Across town, Armand Larive Middle School teacher Lori White wanted a way to help her students be able to make their voices heard on stage.
White, a language arts teacher, began teaching theater at the school a few years ago and wanted to purchase some microphones and headsets for students to use during performances.
They started with three headsets, but that limited the number of students that could be on stage at any time.
“The class is very popular,” she said. “Last term I had 48 kids sign up.”
Two years ago, she said, she applied for a HEF grant and was able to purchase seven headsets, and with this year’s grant, she bought four more.
The headsets are also used by other teachers throughout the district, she said.
This January, White said, the students will perform a comedy-murder mystery.
White said the drama program has been a place for students who may not have found one elsewhere.
“Some kids don’t do music, they don’t do sports — there are kids who want to be a part of something, they want to perform, but they’re not in those other niches,” she said. “And kids who may not fit the normal mode of what people think are actors, they come out and are spectacular.”
White received $1,200 from HEF for the headsets.
The Hermiston band programs also received funds from HEF, to help provide uniform curriculum at the middle and high schools.
HEF awarded band directors Daniel Allen, Cristian Mata and Sean McClanahan $4,031 to purchase a set of warm-up books for both middle schools and the high school.
“The books have exercises that work on scales, patterns, tuning,” McClanahan said. “There are 10 to 15 different techniques, and it works on those in all the different key centers.”
He said the uniform curriculum across grade levels will make it easier for students to learn those techniques, and instructors to teach them.
“There are just more tools at your disposal to help the band with different concepts, whether figuring out rhythm, chords, or keeping sound in check,” he said.
Between instruments, sheet music and travel, most school music programs have a lot of funding needs. Meeting those needs can be especially difficult in rural areas, or with smaller programs.
McClanahan said the band teachers regularly apply for grants to keep up with the needs for their students and instruments.
“Our percussion that get used for marching band tends to take a really bad beating,” he said. “What we had before was not built for that. The instruments were falling apart.”
Last year, he said, they used grant money to buy some larger instruments that are often difficult for families to afford, like a bass and a French horn. The grant, along with money he was allotted by HHS principal Tom Spoo, allowed him to purchase $32,000 worth of supplies and repairs.
He said keeping up with maintenance needs is a struggle for most music programs.
“I came from a small district before here,” he said. “It’s a similar situation. Instruments are old, they need repairing. You make do with what you have.”
Armand Larive Middle School band director Cristian Mata also received a grant, which will allow him to purchase a new xylophone for the school’s concert band. Mata received $2,265 for that purchase.
The Hermiston Education Foundation, which is funded by community donations and gifts, supports academic and artistic programs throughout the district through its grant programs, and provides scholarships to four Hermiston High School seniors each year. This year, they awarded $20,839 in grant money.
HEF gave out grants to several teachers for special projects, including theater and visual arts, as well. Choir director Jordan Bemrose received about $1,500 to purchase 80 tickets to take students to a theater production at the Capitol Theater in Yakima. Half the tickets will be purchased for students to attend a show in fall 2019, and the rest for spring of 2020. Art teacher Nicole Cimmiyotti received $850 to purchase supplies for students to create a permanent “mosaic-style” mural in one of the high school’s stairwells.