Louisa County Public Schools awarded $25,000 in grants for educational projects that encourage teachers and students to think outside the box.

Thirty lead teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels will share the grant awards, which range from $250 to $1,000. The funds were targeted at projects that strengthen students’ mastery of the 5 C’s — communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and citizenship.

This is the first year the schools have set aside funding for innovation grants to support individual teachers’ academic projects, according to Doug Straley, superintendent of schools. The idea stemmed from the schools’ ongoing effort to make the 5 C’s an inherent part of everyday teaching. This is critical, Straley said, to prepare children for a job market where these skills are prized.  

One of the first grant winners to be notified was Charley Carroll, an English teacher at Louisa County Middle School, who received $1,000 to support her students’ literary journal. They will submit writing to be considered for publication; her advanced class will vet the entries and select ones that showcase the 5 C’s.

Carroll and colleagues Nikki Hankinson and Joel Rupert won another $1,000 for a Talented and Gifted class project to answer questions about how to care for their community.

Among other winners are Kate Chisholm, a Thomas Jefferson Elementary School teacher who wants to create “a culture of investigation, curiosity and growth in [the] female student population”; Jouett Elementary School teacher Marcia Flora, whose fifth-graders will use technology to create an interactive presentation about ecosystems; and Gail Carlin and Becky Massie at the middle and high schools, whose students will design mobiles to decorate the school buildings.

The 5 C’s are an educational phenomenon across the state, but Louisa’s schools have adopted them with particular zeal. At the Feb. 15 Louisa County School Board meeting, Straley and Amanda Hester, assistant superintendent of instruction, emphasized other recent innovations, such as #LCPScollaborates, a weekly newsletter for teachers, and a plan to implement student portfolios to highlight students’ work on the 5 C’s. The projects that won grant awards last week will serve as another resource for teachers.

“Our teachers told us they would like to see a bank of activities that they can access in their own classrooms,” Hester said at the school board meeting. “We do see this as a great starting point for them to see where they can work with their students to promote collaboration and take their critical thinking skills to another level.”  

Teaching students to think critically is not the same as simply feeding information to them, as was long the norm in education.

“To be honest, this can be intimidating to an educator,” said Chisholm, speaking to the school board. “It takes time to plan and practice. We know critical thinking is happening every day in our classrooms, but what we want to do now is to make it intentional. Critical thinking doesn’t belong to a certain age group or discipline. It’s a life skill.”

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