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Jefferson Trust awards over $100,000 of grants to community projects supporting anti-racist curricula, STEM and access to education

Grants are capped at $10,000 and were awarded monthly beginning in January

<p>The Toddler’s House will also provide a demonstration and research site for University faculty and students investigating the principles and characteristics of evidence-based early-childhood learning and its potential for multi-generational, transformative impact within under-resourced communities.</p>

The Toddler’s House will also provide a demonstration and research site for University faculty and students investigating the principles and characteristics of evidence-based early-childhood learning and its potential for multi-generational, transformative impact within under-resourced communities.

The Jefferson Trust awarded $109,800 worth of flash grants to 14 projects focused on various elements of the student experience starting in January — more than double the amount of flash grants awarded in 2019. Projects supported by this year’s funding include supporting access to education, diversifying and implementing anti-racist curricula and promoting STEM subjects, among others.

The trust seeks to allow “great ideas at the University to come to fruition and demonstrate the powerful benefits of donor-led, university-based grantmaking,” according to its website. Its mission is “to foster a dynamic community of alumni and friends of the University of Virginia who provide catalytic grants in support of innovation and leadership.” The trust invests in individuals whose efforts lead to positive impact on the student experience, the University community or society at large.

“It is clear that the University community is working hard to make a positive impact on students of all ages,” Grants Administrator Amy Bonner said. “Flash grants affect local toddlers, high school students and, of course, U.Va. students at all levels. The trustees are pleased to be able to support so many high-quality proposals.” 

Grants are capped at $10,000 and are awarded monthly beginning in January. Since its inception in 2006, the Trust has awarded over $9.8 million to 242 trustee-selected projects across Grounds. A board of trustees — composed of alumni, parents and friends of the University who represent almost every school and a variety of professional divisions — selects the grant winners. 

“Through their service, [the trust engages] directly with, and invest in, the people and projects that advance U.Va.,” the website said. 

The selection process involves a reading and evaluation of the submitted grant proposals, wherein board members look for how a grant can impact and reach students and the community. Through three flash cycles, the trust received 39 proposals requesting $307,577. Flash funding cycles begin each January and will be available monthly until funds are depleted. 

A majority of this year’s flash grants focused on the student experience at all levels. Student-led programs included 2020 Extraordinary Moments, which will develop a documentary; Hands-On History, which will research Civil War history; Girls Who Code, which will provide a gender-inclusive community for those looking to learn coding; and the Va. Medical Review, which will provide an online platform for scientific and medical articles written by students. According to Seese, trustees have been pleased by the innovative projects that have been proposed by the community.

“Throughout the difficulties and strain of COVID, our trustees have remained excited and optimistic about the resilience of students and the creative ideas that continue to bubble up throughout the University,” Seese said.

Several projects awarded grants will be pursuing anti-racism work in the University and Charlottesville community.

With a $6,200 grant, a group of faculty and graduate students from the University’s Writing and Rhetoric Program will produce a syllabus for an ENWR 1510 course that focuses on Thomas Jefferson, the University, Charlottesville and their relationships to colonization, slavery and white supremacy. ENWR courses are part of the Writing and Rhetoric Department at the University, and ENWR 1510 courses are one of the classes students can take to fulfill their first-year writing requirement.

The course — “Teaching Writing and Anti-Racism” — will encourage and support instructors “with a broader goal of widespread adoption of a course that would build student awareness of racial inequity,” the trust’s website said.

Project leaders English doctoral candidate Cherrie Kwok and Anastatia Curley, assistant professor and associate director for pedagogy in the Writing and Rhetoric Program, said they were motivated by the “Historic, Yet Unmet Demands” document that the Black Student Association circulated last summer, which called on the University to take a more active role in combating white supremacy.

The demands call on the University to expand its current curriculum, stating that “all students, regardless of area of study, should have required education — either inside or outside the classroom — on white supremacy, colonization and slavery as they directly relate to Thomas Jefferson, the University and the city of Charlottesville.” The circular materials developed for this course will be sculpted with the themes highlighted by the BSA in mind. 

In developing the syllabus and curricula, the project team will solicit feedback from faculty at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies and from students in BSA. 

“Since we’re writing teachers and not historians, we won’t be trying to provide an exhaustive history of U.Va. and Charlottesville,” Curley said. “Instead, we’ll be asking students to look at the narratives of that history and consider what they say and what they leave out.”

Project leaders are eager to collaborate with others, including students and faculty members, and urge those seeking involvement to reach out to Kwok at mk7kf@virginia.edu, and Curley at ac9we@virginia.edu

“Our hope is that [students] emerge as thoughtful readers and writers, able to consider and respond to both recent history and the longer history of white supremacy in Charlottesville and at U.Va.,” Curley said.

In addition to the ENWR 1510 classroom project, a project called “Extending Jefferson’s Vision on Leadership: Learning How To Discuss Race and Racism Through Humility” was awarded a $9,189 grant to teach University students strategies to reframe anxiety surrounding conversations about race as an opportunity to learn.

The project is a response to the current moment — defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, tragic events of Aug. 11 and 12, 2017 and police violence against Black Americans — which has precipitated nationwide conversations about race and racial inequalities. 

The Unite the Right rallies of Aug. 11 and 12, 2017 that took place in Charlottesville moved members of the University and Charlottesville to grapple with its history of systemic racism, and ongoing advocacy against police brutality across the nation have made the need for this education increasingly necessary.   

Nearly one-third of the flash grant winners involved STEM initiatives that seek to educate and empower the next generation. The Interactive + Digital Electronic Arts Lab was awarded a $1,927.96 grant to introduce high school students to STEM concepts through a remote, hands-on creative experience involving arts and crafts, circuits and musical representation. 

Co-directors Rachel Gibson and Matias Andres Vilaplana Stark, doctoral candidates in Music Composition and Computer Technologies, launched the i+DEAL project to teach Charlottesville high school students science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics skills such as circuit building, physical computing and coding. 

“Having worked on developing STEAM-related projects beforehand, I felt like I understood how the arts can not only help students become well-rounded individuals, but also have the potential to provide a pathway to technological literacy in the 21st century,” Stark said.

Gibson and Stark hope to empower students with technological literacy to prepare them for an increasingly digital world. 

“Through this workshop we can open a new world of possibilities for younger minds that might have engaged with technology only from an end-user perspective,” Stark said.

Students will make their own mini musical synthesizers and engage in jam sessions together. In the long term, the project team hopes to “prepare the next generation of music graduate students for creating and hosting STEAM- and music-related workshops,” according to the trust’s website.

“We have as much to learn from them as they do from us, and I love the idea of helping each other grow in unexpected and unconventional ways,” Gibson said.

A $10,000 grant was awarded to an initiative that will outfit the 10th & Page Toddler’s House with high-quality, evidence-based childcare in the Montessori tradition for low-income children in the neighborhood, fulfilling an urgent need. The Toddler’s House of 10th & Page is a joint initiative of the psychology department’s Montessori Science Program, the U.Va. Equity Center and community partners Pilgrim Baptist Church and City of Promise. Montessori is a child-centered method of education that involves child-led activities, classrooms with children of different ages and teachers who encourage independence among their pupils.

The Toddler’s House will also provide a demonstration and research site for University faculty and students investigating the principles and characteristics of evidence-based early-childhood learning and its potential for multi-generational, transformative impact within under-resourced communities.

“This project is motivated, in part, by a larger, nationwide movement amongst the Montessori community to bring the approach back to its roots as an education for social justice and equity,” co-director Corey Borgman said. 

Angeline Lillard, co-director of the project and professor of psychology, has been studying Montessori’s methods for more than two decades. She plans to offer a COLA course — a one-credit, graded seminar open to all new first-year students — in which students will explore the neighborhood and its history, the need for childcare and current offerings, the principles of community-engaged research and the promise of Montessori and its alignment with Jefferson’s vision for university education.

Student involvement with the project will also be possible through Engagements courses, which serve as the foundation of the general education experience, as well as research projects aimed at improving early childhood education and potential volunteer activities coordinated with student organizations like Madison House. 

“In the century that has passed since the establishment of those first classrooms, a compelling body of evidence has accrued demonstrating the strong, positive, holistic benefits of a Montessori education,” Borgman said.

The grant will allow the team to hire “committed and qualified teachers and to sponsor them for the best available Montessori training beginning this summer.” Montessori training is expensive and often rigorous, so the grant will open opportunities for those who otherwise would not have access to it.

Borgman described the long-term goals of the project as “broad and ambitious.” 

“We aim to support the long-term, holistic flourishing of as many children as we can serve,” Borgman said. “We know from other similar sites that high-quality, high-fidelity Montessori education has the power to initiate a lasting, positive ripple-effect — initially amongst children, but expanding to caregivers, and then out into the wider community.”

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