Orr teacher awarded grant for art furniture program

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Jeanne Walker’s Orr High School students are about to get a taste of entrepreneurship, with help from an Oppenheimer Family Foundation Teacher Incentive Grant (TIG) awarded earlier this month.

Drawing inspiration from the work of local community activists, Walker’s class of primarily juniors and seniors will transform wood, paint and mosaic tiles into colorful decorative furniture, starting next month.

Guided by neighborhood mentors, the Austin students will then sell their art furniture at local craft fairs and online at Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding web site. Students will receive 50 percent of the sales, while the remainder will help fund Orr’s service learning projects and student social business plans.

Now in its second year, the Orr art furniture project is growing. A multi-disciplinary exercise, the project affords neighborhood students lessons in creativity, social justice, entrepreneurship and civic literacy.

“The project is not only very meaningful, but the students and I have a lot of fun doing this work,” said Walker, an eight-time TIG winner.

“The Teacher Incentive Grants are a great honor, and I am very humbled by Mr. Oppenheimer’s continued support of my projects. It is exciting to see how the work of local Upstanders [activists] who go the extra mile to make life better for the youth of our community get a chance to be honored, and ultimately for students to learn from their actions as they start taking action on their own to make change.”

On Nov. 29, Walker was joined by the Oppenheimer Family Foundation, as well as Luis Soria, CPS Chief of Schools for the Midway Network, as they recognized several Austin teachers and hundreds of other outstanding teachers at an awards ceremony at Prosser Career Academy.

More than $160,000 in grants went to 272 primary and secondary Chicago Public Schools teachers. The grants, which will help fund 139 interdisciplinary projects across the district, are expected to directly engage more than 20,000 CPS students.

Linda Comminos of Manley High School as well as Perry Schroeder and Janice Coats of May Elementary also received Teacher Incentive Grants that will benefit Austin youth.

For 37 years, the foundation has celebrated teaching through hands-on experiences with the grants and the OPPY Award. This year, the Foundation received almost 400 applications, the largest number of grant requests since 2006. Ted Oppenheimer, president of the Foundation, attributes the jump in part to the new longer school day and a renewed city-wide emphasis on arts education.

“We are pleased to see such increased interest in this type of interdisciplinary, hands-on projects,” said foundation President Oppenheimer. “With grants of up to $2,000, we’re helping these exceptional teachers develop exciting project-based lessons for their students in the arts, science, math and language arts, to name a few.”

The Oppenheimer Family Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization founded in 1933 to support the work of Chicago non-profit groups in the areas of education, the environment and crime prevention. This is the 37th year for the Oppenheimer Foundation’s Teacher Incentive Grants program. To date, the organization has awarded more than $3.4 million in grants.

Here’s a full list of this year’s winners.


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