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Pennell Elementary: A special grant for a special mission

Pennell Elementary Grant

Pictured L to R: Pennel Principal Josh Leight, Franklin Mint Credit Union Foundation Executive Director Rick Durante, Caterin Furia, Assistant Superintendent Eric Kaminka and students. 


Catherine Furia, and teachers like her at Penn-Delco, do special work.  Her classroom at Pennell Elementary is a multiple disabilities support classroom for kindergarten through fifth grade that serves students from throughout the district, including all four elementary schools.  Special education is her daily mission. “The students in my classroom have a range of disabilities including, but not limited to, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, autism, speech and language disabilities, ADHD, seizure disorders, etc.” she explains.  “I am responsible for teaching not just academics, but also functional life skills.”


It is those functional life skills that often require creative tools and teaching methods to accomplish, but are not part of the overall special education budget.  Furia’s students often need explicit instruction in skills that other students may just pick up. “Due to the range of student ages and their disabilities, I need a wide range of materials. And the type of materials I need change year to year.”


Tools for teaching skills

Furia had hoped to acquire three functional skills programs: Edmark Telling Time, Touch Money, and Edmark Restaurant and Menu Words Program.  “All three of these programs greatly assist in the teaching of functional skills in the classroom.” So she decided to apply for a mini-grant from the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union through their foundation that supports education in the classroom. “The FMFCU grant process involved asking for specific materials for the classroom and how they would benefit students.”  


In December, Catherine’s wish for her students came true.   Her application for a grant was selected by the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union to receive a $496 mini-grant to support her instruction with time, money, and community-based experiences to benefit Pennell’s students with autism and multiple disabilities.   The official grant was awarded to her, Pennell Elementary Principal Josh Leight, and Assistant Superintendent Eric Kuminka on December 5th.


Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union Foundation announces the award of mini-grants totaling nearly five thousand dollars to a dozen teachers across the region. According to its website, in its inaugural mini-grant offering, the Foundation received 85 applications from kindergarten through twelfth grade teachers to help fund innovative student-oriented educational experiences that might not otherwise be funded.  Foundation Executive Director Rick Durante presented the check in person. He is proud of the work his organization does because of the broad need for classroom funding. On their website he remarks: “We know there are a lot of innovative projects that teachers would like to implement that simply need a small financial boost to get off the ground or to be completed.”


Pennell Principal Leight agrees. “Grants like this generous one from the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union make it possible for our teachers to enrich the educational experiences of our students in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Ms.Furia will be able to use the materials provided by the FMFCU’s grant to bolster her community-based instruction including lessons on time and money in real world settings.”


A gift in action

Catherine believes that these materials will make an immense difference in the lives of her students: “We take community based instruction trips so my students can go out in the community with me,” she said.  “We can go to a restaurant, for instance, and they can utilize the skills that they have learned through the restaurant and menu words program in a real-world setting.”


She also runs a mini "store" that her students, along with the autistic support classroom students at Pennell,  every other week.  Her students bag and sell the treats during lunch waves.  They need to make sure they are on time for their selling "shift" as well as handle money. “These are skills the students will need later in life in a real-world job situation,” she explains.  “The programs that I requested through the grant will explicitly teach these skills.”


The mini-grant program aligns well with Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union’s charge to lead with education. “FMFCU exemplifies the credit union philosophy, ‘people helping people,’ and what better way for us to support our community than through education,” Durante explains on their website.  Mini-grant requests have ranged from $51 to the cap of $500. 


FMFCU Foundation is also responsible for operation and funding of the annual Delaware County Excellence in Teaching Awards, which awards 21 teachers and their schools $1,500, the annual John D. Unangst Memorial Scholarship which awards five high school seniors $3,000 each, and directly funds a number of other educational initiatives and awards.


Catherine Furia is grateful for the additional support and is amazed at the impact that such a mini-grant will have on so many.  “The materials will also be shared with the two autistic support classrooms, so it’s not just my students who will benefit but also the students in those two classrooms.”