ELKHART — A former Riverview Elementary student gave the largest donation ever to an Elkhart Community Schools elementary school earlier this year.
The nearly $50,000 donation, from Ashley Martin and the Martin Family Foundation, was enough to introduce new technology in the K-3 classrooms at Riverview — smart boards, an interactive whiteboard for student and teacher use.
“The donation was a vote of confidence to a public school,” Riverview principal Barb Cripe said in an interview on Thursday, Oct. 31. “You don’t see that kind of donation to a public school from a former student ... it was a remarkable gift.”
Martin said that she hasn’t forgotten Riverview teachers who helped her through some learning difficulties when she was an elementary student.
“I feel like (Riverview teachers) helped me a lot when I was younger, and I wanted to help them help other children,” Martin said.
Martin asked Cripe what she needed at the school.
“I gave her a list of needs, and at the top of the list was technological needs,” Cripe said.
Elkhart Community Schools put smart boards in all grade 3-6 classrooms about five years ago, Cripe explained. But, she added, the lower grades didn’t have that technology, and it didn’t look like they were going to get them anytime soon with the budget cuts local school corporations were experiencing.
“It seemed like (the smart boards) was really neat technology that would help all the students,” Martin said. “We (she and school staff) kind of came together (on the idea to purchase smart boards).”
Martin’s donation gave a boost to teachers who were feeling “beaten down” after a rough year, according to Cripe.
“To have a former student say, ‘That school did a lot for me and I just want to give back,’ that was the most heartwarming part about (the donation),” Cripe said.
Kindergarten teacher Cherise Richards is in her second year teaching at Riverview, and she said the smart boards make a difference in how well her students pay attention and learn.
“Last year, I had a chalkboard,” Richards said during an interview Monday, Nov. 4, at the school. “When I had a piece of paper it would go on the board on a magnet. That’s fine but the kids in the back couldn’t see it, and they weren’t as engaged.”
Now, Richards said, she can project anything on her computer screen on to the whiteboard in her classroom. The visual and audio stimulation really captures students’ attention, she said, and the students can also interact with what they are seeing on the screen.
“They will tell you that they are playing games, but I could go through every standard and tell you how it applies to the different things we do with the board,” Richards said. “It’s honestly one of the best tools in my classroom.”
Sarah Wise, a first-grade teacher at Riverview, said her students enjoy the hands-on experience of interacting with the board, and she likes the opportunity to display limitless information for the students.
“I’m able to pull up anything — like if we are doing pumpkins, I can pull up pumpkin facts or videos on pumpkins,” Wise said.
She added that software that was donated with the actual boards helps her offer students new ways to learn, that she may not have thought of herself.
Douglas Hunnings teaches sixth grade at Riverview and he said that students using smart boards means that they are getting a boost in technology skills.
“There are a lot of real-world applications,” Hunnings said. “(The smart boards) give students a perspective of how it might be for them later in life.”
Hunnings added that students also learn valuable lessons about what to do when technology tools “freeze” or aren’t working properly.
“I tell them, make sure you have a plan B,” he said.