Changemakers, Our Work for Educators

Inspired Educator Finds a Home on Champions’ Classroom Grants Committee

Classroom Grants provide opportunities for educators to share their projects with the community in hopes of gaining financial support from members of the community. This is facilitated through Champions For Learning, but is 100% dependent upon the generosity of the community.

The role of the community-based Classroom Grants Committee is so important to this process. These engaged community members read through all of the grants–scoring each request using a rubric, assist in delivering grants checks and visit classrooms throughout the district to see the grants in action.

The Classroom Grants Committee truly is an amazing way to support our local teachers and students. We’re so grateful to our community for giving of their time and talent in support of this amazing program.

One community member that has gotten in on the fun of the Classroom Grants Program is Dr. James (Jim) Schmotter. Jim has enjoyed an amazing academic career, serving at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Lehigh University, Western Michigan University before his eleven years as President of Western Connecticut State University. In addition to his volunteer work with Champions, Jim currently serves as President of the Naples Council on World Affairs and is a member of Habitat for Humanity’s Family Selection Committee.

Recently, Jim was gracious enough to share his thoughts about his three-year tenure on the Classroom Grants Committee:

Tell us about yourself and why you first got involved with Champions For Learning.

Both my wife Daphne Jameson and I had careers in higher education; we met when we were both working at Cornell University.  She taught at Cornell for 38 years, but I moved around some, serving as business school dean at Lehigh University and at Western Michigan University and as president of Western Connecticut State UniversityIn 2015, we retired to Naples and became Florida residents.  I first heard of the work of Champions from a board member I met at a Northwestern University alumni gathering.  Subsequently, I talked with CFL staff at a Volunteer Fair at the Hilton and attended a “Champions 101” session.  I was impressed by the programs, but even more by the people—volunteers and staff—I met.

What about your background has inspired you to get involved with our organization?

Having been active in volunteer roles with organizations such as Junior Achievement, the United Way, and several community foundations in Connecticut, I was looking for opportunities to apply whatever career skills and knowledge I have to projects in our new community.  Champions For Learning clearly provided that match.  Working all those years at universities convinced me that the education of our youth is a process that extends from pre-kindergarten to high school and beyond.  A solid foundation built early is critical to success.  The programs of Champions for Learning—Classroom Grants, Career and College Prep and Take Stock in Children–all help provide that foundation.  So, I was pleased and honored to be asked to join the Selection Committees for Take Stock in Children and, later, Classroom Grants.

Tell me about what you enjoy most about serving on the Classroom Grants committee?

The creativity and commitment to student success that Collier County teachers demonstrate in their grant applications are inspiring.  What’s especially enjoyable for me is to see how different strategies with different curricular and technological approaches are being applied.  There’s a rich array of educational tools available these days, but often the demands of high-stakes testing discourage their use. As evinced by the number and quality of applications, the Classroom Grants Program counters this trend. It also supplements the school district’s budget, which I know is welcome. But what’s most fun is to receive letters and cards of thanks, often hilariously creative, from students who’ve participated in the grants we’ve funded.

What is it about the Classroom Grants Program that has inspired you to fund various projects?   

We’ve tended to gravitate to projects that match our own backgrounds and intellectual interests.  This year, for instance, we’re funding two projects that provide history students an opportunity to go back in time for virtual tours of the Roman Colosseum and other ancient sites.  But we’ve also funded grants that used classic movies to inspire challenged learners and that provided recorders to all students in an elementary music class.  There are usually around two hundred applications from which to choose, and usually, it’s difficult to decide which of the promising submissions to support.

What do you wish other people knew about Champions For Learning?

I don’t think the average Collier County resident—permanent or snowbird—recognizes the impact that Champions For Learning has on our community.  Literally hundreds of teachers and thousands of students benefit from the programs that Champions, thanks to the support of its donors and friends, is able to offer.  I also don’t think that the wide array of volunteer opportunities Champions offers is well understood.  A key element its mission is providing mentors for high school students, and many in the community value that experience.  However, there are many other ways to become involved in the great work Champions is doing.  Just contact the staff through their website.  They’ll find a place where you can apply your talents.  And—I guarantee—you’ll find it worthwhile!