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After 10 Years, Idea-Sharing Network Links Teachers in 31 States, Districts

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Washington--Ten years after a program called Impact was launched in New York City to award small grants to teachers for innovative projects, 31 states and school districts have joined what is now an idea-sharing network linking some 60,000 teachers nationwide.

At an anniversary conference here this month, more than 500 teachers from across the country applauded the growth of a program that many said had given them the first professional recognition of their careers.

"This network of teaching colleagues represents a major step toward the birth of a teaching profession," said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of curriculum and teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the keynote speaker.

The program, now called Impact II, "connects teachers with teachers," she added, "and empowers teachers with knowledge."

Conceived as a way to encourage teachers' creativity, the project was started in 1979 with a $250,000 grant from the Exxon Education Foundation to the New York City schools.

Teachers with ideas they wanted to refine could apply for $300 "developer" grants, while those interested in adapting someone else's innovation could receive $200 "adaptor" grants.

A second pilot program, also supported by Exxon, was launched in Houston in 1981.

A 1982 study by Dale Mann, professor of educational administration at Teachers College, found that Impact had been "remarkably successful'' in transforming teachers' classroom behavior.

In contrast to their previous isolation, teachers who received Impact grants were averaging 43 annual contacts with other teachers through training sessions, workshops, and social functions, according to the study. The average cost, it found, was 27 cents per student in New York City.

Building on the success of the pilot projects, Impact II has spread across the country. To be eligible to join the network, school districts must have a minimum of 2,000 teachers. Regions and states also may join.

Ellen Dempsey, executive director of Impact II, said the state of Illinois will join the program next month, making it the 31st site.

The local programs are supported by state funds, school districts, and corporate and foundation grants. Each site publishes an annual catalog of the innovative ideas that were funded that year, and hosts awards ceremonies for teachers chosen to receive grants.

The national office in New York City offers technical support, publishes handbooks, and hosts a convention every other year.

"To be here is like a revival," said Joseph Sweeny, a teacher at Inter8mediate School 145 in New York's Jackson Heights neighborhood who attended the 10th-anniversary convention.

"There's hope in American education," he added, "and we need it."

An Impact II grant four years ago helped Mr. Sweeny develop his "Future Investors of America" program, which he said received $8,000 in additional grants last year.

The 6th and 7th graders in the program learn the fundamentals of business by setting up their own corporation and using it to hold regular bake sales at the school, Mr. Sweeny explained.

Students practice their mathematics skills by computing dividends, charting their company's progress, and following the stock market.

The program, which is now being used in other New York City schools, has received international press attention, Mr. Sweeny said. Last year, he took his students to Taiwan, and a trip to China is planned er.

Mr. Sweeny and six other teachers presented a workshop at the convention on how teachers can become "educational entrepreneurs." It ranged from a discussion of copyrighting ideas to tips on how to apply for grant money.

Among the others who spotlighted their ideas, Eileen Krieg, a special-education teacher in New York, presented a program she has developed with a local hospital to train learning-disabled students for productive jobs.

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