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The teachers and specialists in Provo City School District are our innovators. They are innovators, companions, and caretakers; they are the brick-and-mortar that fosters learning in our community. The Provo City School District Foundation wants to recognize and support their efforts to make our schools a better place.

Each year, the Foundation awards mini-grants to a few of the many deserving district teachers. To receive the grant, teachers must submit a two-page application detailing their concept for an innovative project to their classroom or school. After receiving the completed application, the Provo School District Foundation Selection Committee picks the mini-grant recipients for the year.

It’s a process that isn’t required of teachers, but each year, many go the extra mile for their students.  

This year, we’re speaking to a few teachers who have received mini-grants to ask them about their classroom’s perceived need, the mini-grant product, the classroom impact of their mini-grant, and lastly, advice for new and struggling teachers on how they can differentiate and extend learning in their classrooms.

We first spoke with Jessica Kempter, pillar and paragon of instruction at Spring Creek Elementary, about her mini-grant, which she used to purchase books for a new Spanish section in her classroom library. Read her interview below.

Q: So, tell us about the perceived need in your classroom and what you received through your mini-grant.

A: Our school sees a lot of families who are brand new to the country. I have a girl who moved here straight from Venezuela, for example. I don’t speak fluent Spanish, and she doesn’t speak fluid English, so, other than Google Translate, it’s tough to inspire fluency in both languages. I have a library of English books but lack Spanish books to support their learning. That’s why I submitted my grant for books written in Spanish. I’ve built a section of bilingual and Spanish books for my classroom.

Q: Were there any books you aimed to receive specifically? 

A: I used the funds to purchase either bilingual or Spanish books. I also own many of the books I chose in English so that they can support themselves in both languages. I’ve kept track of what books my Spanish Speakers like—primarily graphic novels—so I got a lot of those, too. But I bought a good variety.

Q: How did your students react? Have you seen any changes in your classroom?

A: So, I just introduced them to my students. I’ve got a lot of bilingual students—about ten that are bilingual in some form—and I’ve seen those kids already checking them out. They were very excited. I had one boy who was absent the day I showed them the new Spanish section, so when he went to my library, he turned to me and gasped. They were so excited to see they had a new category, and that was sweet. I’ve noticed that my newest Spanish Speakers gravitate to them. It’s been great.

Q: Most teachers use the Mini-Grants to either differentiate or extend learning. You are an experienced teacher with a track record for differentiating for English Language Learners and multilingual students. Do you have any advice for new teachers struggling to differentiate in their classrooms?

A: Absolutely. One resource that helped me take the first steps came from my school’s encouragement. Spring Creek Elementary pushes a web tool called “Deep L,” which is more accurate than Google Translate. I still use Google Translate because you can take photos and translate worksheets, but Deep L manages academic language better. It’s a great first resource. 

(Deep L is great for on-board instructions and in-class use. Many teachers, Kempter included, use an iPad with the Deep L tool to translate directly at a designated table and check in with students who need help with instruction. We’ve written about a lesson she taught requiring differentiation in a previous article if you’re interested in learning more.)

I’ve also worked on my own Spanish, and even something small creates a connection to your students. Letting them see that you’re trying helps build a safe space. It levels the ground for teacher and student; you come together because you’re both trying. Even a “Buenos dias” in the morning makes a difference.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei

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