FROM LEFT: Providence third-graders Natalia Bianchi and Keila Quinones hand thank-you cards to Letitia and John Carter and Rhode Island Foundation CEO Neil Steinberg after a press conference announcing the inaugural round of Spark Grants on Dec. 19.
Veazie Street Elementary School third graders Keila Quinones and Natalia Bianchi say they’ll use measuring and fractions to build a marimba with their class, and are eager to figure out just what that entails.
“I think it’s kind of cool because I’ve never done it before,” said Quinones, 9, who plays the recorder. “The hardest part [will be] building it with our bare hands and [using] the tools.”
Third-grade teacher Maureen Bracewell will be learning right along with them.
“I haven’t done anything like this before,” said Bracewell. “It’s going to be very challenging for us, but it’s also going to be very exciting.”
And that’s the intent of a new $75,000 “Spark” grant program conceived of and funded by Letitia and John Carter of Providence. While music teacher Kim Cotter-Lemus and Bracewell lead the way with their $800 grant-funded, marimba-building project, 78 other teachers are pursuing grant-funded projects they developed, and the Carters are carving a path the Rhode Island Foundation hopes other philanthropists will follow.
“The Carters reached out to start the conversation,” said Neil D. Steinberg, foundation president and CEO. “We’d like more people to do that.”
Reticent when it comes to speaking directly to the media, the Carters said in a prepared statement that they worked with the foundation to create this new grant program to inspire teachers and put city third-graders “on the path to a lifetime of academic achievement.” The couple wants both teachers and students to embrace hands-on learning, from math to storytelling.
Steinberg said the initiative the Carters undertook is a gesture the foundation would love to see other donors emulate.
“Part of our job in working with philanthropists is making the donors’ dreams come true,” said Steinberg in a phone interview. Apart from scholarships, “very few and not enough” donors fund new startup philanthropic programs like this one, he said.
Well-known and longtime supporters of education, the Carters approached the foundation with the idea this past summer.
“They said they’d love to do something that was direct and impactful with teachers to support teachers and students in the classroom,” said Steinberg.
Jessica David, the foundation’s vice president of strategy and community initiatives, helped flesh out the particulars, Steinberg said. Eligible expenses include software licenses, field trips, equipment and other resources that otherwise would not be available in the classroom. Full-time third-grade teachers in any public or charter school in Providence were eligible to apply.