From WILL - News Headlines -

Champaign Magnet Schools to Share $5 Million Federal Grant

Three magnet schools in Champaign's Unit 4 school district will split up more than $5 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education.

The elementary schools, Garden Hills, Booker T. Washington, and Stratton will receive just over $1 million dollars each of the next three years, and part of will go for teaching specialists and a site coordinator. Unit 4 learned word of the grant late last week.

The schools had already started up modified versions of their magnet programs. Unit 4 grant writer Sue Schumacher says the district had already applied for the grant and was denied, but additional funds became available in the second year of a 3-year cycle. She says that doesn't happen often.

"We had a very competive grant, and it didn't get funded because they ran out of funds after the 36 applications that they accepted last year," said Schumacher. "So it's a relatively rare thing to get granted an off-cycle grant, but we're very thrilled."

Washington Elementary will use the funds to expand its STEM program, or science, technology, engineering and math initiative, while Garden Hills expands its international baccalaureate program with by visiting other nearby schools using the same lessons. And Stratton uses a Leadership in a MicroSociety model, in which students get real world experience, including electing leaders and starting careers.

Stratton Principal Stephanie Eckels says this year, the grant will boost the technology throughout the building.

"We want to really kind of vamp up our library so that the students have access to a lot of good media," she said. "We have smartboards in our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms. We also also received grants last year for laptops for all those students, so we hope to kind of fill in the gaps."

Likely the biggest investment for Stratton will be a full-scale TV and recording studio to boost their lessons. WILL assisted with the writing of Stratton's grant.

Garden Hills Principal Cheryl O'Leary says the funds will bring in proper science equipment for the school's lab, and staff development. But she says the funds will also help the students see other schools using the same theme.

"We'll be taking the kids on field trips to the theater districts in Chicago, to Indianapolis, to St. Louis, and working hand in hand with Krannert (the U of I's Krannert Center) to develop arts projects here in the school that will also go out in the community," said O'Leary. "Each grade level will have to work on a community service project as well now."

O'Leary says the school is also looking at using Skype to talk with classrooms around the country and abroad.