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Garfield Grant Highlights County Program, Process

With a $300 arts grant, Garfield Elementary School music teacher Erin Cooper was proud of the fact that it reached 100 students, teaching lessons in fine arts, language, literature and history.

"It impacted almost 100 students," she said. "The money was used on a program of studies and Standards of Learning."

The 100 students were a combination of third- and fifth-graders who studied ancient Egypt, painting a backdrop for their show, "A Night of Egypt," performed on Feb. 12.

"We sang some Egyptian songs," said Cooper.

Garfield staff also purchased several books in a dual-language format so that parents and students could read them together, crossing a language barrier in the process. Each book was in English as well as another language. Farsi — which is spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, was among the languages in the books. Rozila Khakpour was one of the teachers involved with the grant and exercises that came from it.

"That's why we purchased these books," Khakpour said.

The grant was made through the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and 276 elementary and secondary school teachers were given the grant to develop creative projects that link the arts with non-arts learning objectives. According to its literature, the commission gave out more than $79,000 for this effort in 2003-04.

AN OFFICE was created to apply for grants in the Fairfax County Public Schools, according to spokesperson Paul Regnier. It is chaired by Pam Tobey.

"This position was added several years ago, and it's probably paid for itself," Regnier said.

Pam Tobey, Fairfax Public Schools grants coordinator, noted the two types of grants that schools receive. Entitlement grants are predominantly from federal sources and are figured using formulas and census figures. Competitive grants are from foundations and other charitable organizations.

"Most of the grant organizations set their own priorities," Tobey said.

For example, the Gates Foundation, founded by Microsoft giant Bill Gates, focuses on AIDS research and relief programs in which FCPS does not participate, so it does not apply for those. An internal FCPS Web site lists the grants for which schools can apply. Tobey supplied information from that Web site.

"In FY ‘03, income from competitive grants exceeded $5 million. In all, grants supplemented the FCPS budget by over $50 million. This represented over 3 percent of the Approved Budget," the information stated.

Tobey wasn't involved with the arts grant though.

"If it's a $300 grant, they're not coming through my office," Tobey said.

THE PRIORITIES AND GRANTS section allocates its resources to strategic targets outlined by the School Board, grant qualifications and priorities targeted by FCPS, and areas of budget reductions. Individual school needs are considered, and most state and federal grant opportunities apply only to high-needs schools. One problem faced is the misconception that everyone in Fairfax County is privileged and fortunate, Tobey said. More than 30,000 Fairfax County students receive free or reduced-price lunches, over 20,000 are English speakers of other languages and over 12,000 receive special education, Tobey indicated by e-mail.

KHAKPOUR was in charge of applying for the arts grant, which was done outside of class time. Finding out that it was available was partly luck.

"It's very hard to get information on grants. I got the information on this one from our administrative intern. I thought this was one way we could involve parents. The need is there," Khakpour said.

Khakpour and Cooper combined efforts with other Garfield teachers — Jane Cofie, Palmela Burgess, Bonzette Hairston and Patty Hibner — to apply for the grant.

"It wasn't complicated at all. The whole idea was to incorporate fine arts into the curriculum, but that wasn't difficult. I do that every day," Cooper said.

Burgess was happy to see Khakpour using her multicultural skills with the children as well.

"Rosey reads it in Farsi and English," Burgess said.

According to Virginia Commission for the Arts information, the projects must take place between January and June 2004. The statewide panel reviewed applications on creativity, innovation and how the arts activity or form would support Virginia's non-arts Standard of Learning (SOL) objectives. The commission distributes grants to institutions, arts educators and local governments, and provides technical assistance in arts management. The Virginia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts fund the program.

Cooper noted how music is beneficial to the curriculum, incorporating history, music, literature, math, science and the countywide requirement toward "A Community of Caring."