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'Impact II' Seeding Grassroots Idea Sharing for Creative Teachers

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At a convention called last month in Houston to mark the seventh anniversary of Impact II, a grant program that fosters idea-sharing between teachers, participants acclaimed the program as a success and made plans to implement it in seven new localities this year, including statewide in Connecticut.

The new participants will join more than a dozen districts throughout the nation that have established Impact II programs in the past two years, following the success of pilot projects in New York and Houston. In addition to Connecticut, the new sites are Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; Wake County, N.C.; and consortiums of districts in Everett, Wash.; Jackson, Miss.; and central New York state.

School systems participating in Impact II award teachers small "developer" grants to further refine innovative teaching methods that have proven successful in their classrooms. The ideas are compiled and disseminated to other teachers, who may then seek "adaptor" grants to apply the new techniques in their own classrooms.

Each participating district administers and secures funding for its own program, according to Ellen Meyers, director of communications for the national Impact II office, which provides information and technical assistance to districts interested in adopting the program.

"We named it Impact II because, unlike other grant programs, its primary objective is to get good ideas out to other teachers so they can have an impact," Ms. Meyers said.

High 'Mileage' Grants

"The idea originated as a way to get more mileage out of mini-grant programs," said Ms. Meyers.

In the seven years since the Exxon Education Foundation awarded a grant to begin the pilot program in the New York City school system, more than 1,500 of that system's teachers have participated--receiving either $300 "developer" grants or $200 "adaptor" grants.

"For very little money we've developed the epitome of a professional network of teachers to transfer and share good classroom ideas," said Charlotte Frank, executive director of the division of curriculum and instruction in the New York City schools, the office that administers the district's program.

An Impact II program requires a minimum of $75,000 for the first year's funding and start-up expenses, said officials familiar with the program. The money covers the grants, printing and mailing costs for distributing information, and the salary of a part-time administrator.

Participating school systems have raised money to fund the program from foundations, community businesses, state appropriations, and school-district budgets.

Classroom-Tested Projects

Each participating district publishes an annual catalogue of the projects created by the "developer" teachers and makes it available to other teachers in the system. Teachers may apply for grants to adapt ideas in the catalogue to their classroom.

New York City's 1985-86 catalogue, for example, contains 85 classroom-tested teaching projects4ranging from a curriculum unit on the history of clay artifacts to computer-aided fashion design.

"One of the best things about the program is that it lets teachers get out of their classroom to see what other teachers are doing," said Rita Kelsey, who teaches 8th-grade mathematics in Baldwinsville, N.Y. Ms. Kelsey has been instrumental in getting Impact II started this year at the Central New York State Teacher Center, which serves 3,500 teachers in 16 school districts.

"It also gives recognition to motivated teachers, those who put extra time and creativity into their job," Ms. Kelsey said.

In most cases, teachers form a majority group on the review panels that make grant determinations.

National Movement

"We began to go national two years ago, just when all of the reports were released calling for reforms in education, citing the importance of recognizing and supporting good teachers in order to keep them teaching," said Ms. Meyers.

"This program goes right to the heart of the issue of reform--the human side where teachers are part of the solution rather than part of the problem," said Ernest L. Boyer,president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and author of High School--A Report on Secondary Education in America.

"It's almost a shame how modest are the resources needed to generate the kind of commitment I've seen among participants in this program,'' he added.

The national Impact II conference in Houston last month was attended by more than 500 teachers and administrators, who discussed ways to use the program to develop a national network for teachers to share ideas.

Impact II is already operating in such diverse sites as: Houston and Lubbock, Tex.; Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Boston; Roanoke Valley and Fairfax County, Va.; Rockland County and Westchester County, N.Y.; and in a consortium of districts in central Michigan.

"The teacher enthusiasm is catching," said Ellen Dempsey, executive director of the national Impact II office. "Teachers are learning that, by communicating with each other, they have the power to develop their own profession and make significant changes occur in classrooms across the country."

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