West Elementary teacher earns Idaho Power grant

Thursday, April 18, 2013
Becky Burke received a $1,000 technology grant from Idaho Power, which she used to buy laptop computers for her classroom at West Elementary School.

A teacher from West Elementary School looking to help her students improve their reading abilities gained some new tools through a grant she earned this month.

During a recent presentation at the school, Becky Burke received a $1,000 technology grant through Idaho Power.

"We know that our company is only as strong as the communities we serve," said Idaho Power President Darrel Anderson. "This is just another way Idaho Power is helping build strong communities and giving back to our customers."

Burke was one of 33 individuals and organizations in Idaho and Oregon that earned grants through the company's Powering Lives campaign. A record number of schools and non-profit organizations applied this year with the utility company providing its highest level of grant money to date.

"We're thrilled to provide these grants at a time when so many organizations are facing budget shortfalls," said Krista West, who led the company's grant effort. "Idaho Power has always been a champion of education, and this campaign is one of the highlights of our efforts."

Burke, who started teaching at the school in 1988, admits that she stumbled on the grant information by chance while she was surfing the internet at home.

"I saw that (the application deadline) was closing the next day and said what the heck," she said.

The grant allowed her to buy five laptop computers for her third grade classroom. Her students primarily use these computers and other technology aids to access an online reading program known as myON.

Principal Sherri Ybarra brought the online tool into the school as part of an ongoing push to improve its academic standards.

Since the program started at West, "the reading abilities of these students have made vast improvements," Burke said.

"The kids love it," she added. In addition to classic literature, the online resource includes a number of non-fiction stories that focus on science, social studies and the humanities.

At the end of each story, the site requires students to test on the material before they can move on to the next one. Those who struggle with the material have chances to retest versus the one-chance option previously available to them.

With so many reading options at their disposal, Burke has seen her students take greater initiative to improve their reading fluency, she said.

She has one student that comes into class at 7:30 a.m. each school day and starts to read before he takes a break to eat breakfast. A few minutes later, a few of her other students come in to read before class officially begins.

It seems the only time her students aren't in the classroom nowadays is when they're in music class or in gym, she said.

In addition to the laptops, Burke's classroom has several iPads the school received on a rotational basis. Having the extra laptops will ensure her students will continue to have enough access to these online reading resources when those other electronic devices are handed over to other classrooms.

Demand for these online reading tools presents a growing challenge for Burke and other teachers in the local school district. Compounding those challenges are the number of students at West Elementary School who don't have computers and online resources at home.

According to the teacher, about nine out every 10 children in third and fourth at the school come from families dealing with poverty. That leaves the school as the closest place where these children can access these resources.

Burke is looking at applying for another technology grant in the near future in hopes of earning enough funding to buy a smart board for her classroom. This would give her another resource to improve her ability to teach her students, she said.

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