by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Through the good days and the bad days, working with children always warms teacher Mary Kay Looney’s heart. “You hope you can make a difference in their lives somewhere,” she said. “And always try to make learning fun. That’s the key.” As the fifth grade teacher at Cochrane-Fountain City Elementary School begins her 25th year in the classroom, she is celebrating her recent win of $1,000 for classroom supplies. She plans to use the funds to grow students’ love of reading, and she gave half the money to several new teachers to set up their classrooms.
Looney was one of 20 winners selected at random to receive funds for classroom supplies by the Wisconsin Education Association Trust.
Looney plans to use the funds to purchase books about students’ interests, from the Revolutionary War to fishing. Tapping into students’ interests helps them learn, she said. “The more books and novels you have, the more you can help [students] to find a book that they like and build on their strong suit,” Looney said. She added, “I think having the money to buy the books helps set up the classroom to meet all learners’ needs and develop that love of reading.”
In the past, Looney witnessed students begin to enjoy reading once she found books about subjects the elementary schoolers liked. She had students last year who were interested in hunting but did not read much. Then, however, she discovered a series about deer and duck hunting, and the students could not put the books down. “They read every single one,” she said.
The books’ positive educational impact will go beyond the walls of Looney’s classroom. Students in the school’s other fifth grade class will have the opportunity to read the books Looney buys, as well.
Looney also wants to put the funds toward materials that will help guide students through writing, and thinking about books, in addition to comprehending them, overall.
The funds will not just assist Looney with supporting students; the money has also allowed her to support some of her fellow teachers. She gave half of the funds to the two newest teachers at the school to help them set up their classrooms as they begin their careers. “You have nothing when you get a classroom … You have to find stuff,” Looney said. Though the district provides teachers with a generous budget for supplies, Looney said, the funding may be tight for those just starting out in the education field. “Sometimes a new teacher needs a lot more than what the budget allows,” she said.