Until a few months ago, Connor* barely spoke, and when he did, he was difficult to understand. That all changed when his teacher purchased some podcasting equipment, thanks to a school grant funded by the Halton Learning Foundation (HLF). Within weeks, Connor and the other eight 9 to 11-year-old students in his class had found their voice.
Stacey Falconer teaches Connor and his peers, all of whom have learning disabilities.
“A lot of these kids didn’t think anyone cared what they had to say, so why bother making an effort,” she explained. Thanks to the podcasting equipment, the kids have been inspired to write scripts and interview guests in order to produce podcasts and create videos.
Falconer, a teacher at Lakeshore Public School in Burlington, had tried using podcasting earlier in the year to encourage the development of language skills and collaboration. Without the right equipment, the experiment was a failure. The grant from HLF was critical to its success, she said, and the impact on students has been remarkable.
Connor was suddenly motivated to work with his speech therapist so he could speak on the podcasts; another classmate was encouraged to learn to spell properly because otherwise nobody could read the scripts he’d written; others were inspired to read more because recording themselves reading aloud, and adding music and sound effects, made it more fun.
“Now the kids know that what they say and put out into the world matters, and there’s a lot of thought about the way they express their opinions,” Falconer said. “(Before) there was a lot of black and white thinking, and now they try to find the grey, because we only podcast the grey. That’s a pretty cool shift for a nine-year-old.”
The podcasting grant was just one of 124 school grants HLF disbursed in 2022 to elementary and secondary schools across the Halton District School Board this year following an application process in December. Grant funds support initiatives in arts and music, physical and mental well-being, equity and inclusion, and Indigenous awareness.
“We know schools often need additional funding for critical programs and equipment, and many schools have a hard time fundraising to make up the shortfall,” said Lesley Mansfield, CEO of the Halton Learning Foundation. “With the support of our donors, HLF ensures that schools can apply for grants of up to $1,500 per project every year through an easy and efficient process.”
Oakwood Public School used an equity and inclusion grant from HLF to take its entire Kindergarten to Grade 5 population on field trips to two local conservation areas. The younger kids visited a maple sugar bush and learned about birds of prey, while the older kids visited the Indigenous longhouses and went on a nature hike at Crawford Lake.
“We forget that not every family in Halton has the same access to the community and the world around them,” said Beth Reeves-Miclash, Special Education Resource Teacher. “This grant removed the financial barrier to ensure every student had the opportunity to participate in this learning opportunity.
“Being outside enriches learning in so many ways, and the students all came back rejuvenated,” she said. “We’re so grateful for what these funds did for our kids.”
*(name changed to protect privacy)