The Ed Fund is proud to announce that we will be distributing nearly $115,000 in Create Joy grants to fund 18 projects across 13 SFUSD schools for our fall grant distribution cycle. We have almost tripled the financial impact of our grants since last fall, when we awarded $38,000 in Create Joy grants to 14 educators. Funded projects from this grant cycle include engaging El Dorado Elementary kindergartners in learning about food systems to deepen their connection and desire to care for the environment; a three-night educational-focused camping experience at Pie Ranch in Pescadero for June Jordan School for Equity students; and a school-wide grant for MLK Middle School to establish a Digital Art and Design program benefiting 150 students enrolled in the program. The funded initiatives from this grant cycle showcase a commitment from educators to creating joyful learning environments that extend beyond typical classroom lessons, and aim to positively transform the school experience overall. 

Thank you to Division 36 of the California Retired Teachers Association which is continuing its commitment to supporting educators, students and families by contributing an additional $30,000 in funds for grants this school year. We also extend our gratitude to the Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation for sponsoring $30,000 in grants, and to New Relic which is sponsoring $15,000 in Create Joy grants in the 2023-24 school year.  

Create Joy Educator Grants Video Feature

Grant recipients will be putting the following projects into motion by the end of the school year:  

Elementary Schools: 

César Chávez Elementary | Building the Understanding, Connections, and Joy that Improve Attendance  

Lindsay Dowdle, principal of César Chávez Elementary, received $8,756 to fund family and classroom events that create joy and reward attendance. Principal Dowdle says, “We will invest in learning sessions on trauma-informed practices to deepen our attunement to what families are facing. … We must be attuned to student and family needs and take special care to understand how trauma may be impacting their experience at school or their attendance.” By creating joyful moments through experiences with food, fun activities, prizes, and connection, Dowdle hopes to celebrate families and increase attendance, transforming the school environment into a more joyful community. Dowdle says, “When students and families feel connected it magnetizes the school to a place where people look forward to attending.”  

El Dorado Elementary | The Joy of Planting, Growing and Eating 

Angelica Bohall-Ortega, kindergarten teacher, received $3,260 to fund her efforts in engaging her students in food systems. Bohall-Ortega’s main goal is to provide her students with a fun curriculum that stimulates student interest and fluency in food systems, deepening their connection with and desire to care for the environment. Bohall-Ortega says, “This project is building on my classroom’s intrinsic joy that has been coming from our science unit all about what plants need to live and grow. The discoveries students have made through investigations have also developed new questions about where certain foods come from and how they go from seeds to foods we consume. This gives us an opportunity to grow our own food in the classroom, take a field trip to cook our own meal with the help of experts and read about how/why bees are so important to our food crops through poems.”  

Edward R. Taylor Elementary | Living Things Life Cycle and Animal Habitats  

Laura Hy, second grade teacher, received $3,050 for her project titled “Living Things Life Cycle and Animal Habitats.” The funds will be used to purchase materials to support her classroom’s “Living Things Life Cycle” and “Animal Habitats” units of study. Hy will purchase an incubator, fertilized chicken eggs, and notebooks for students to learn about the life cycle of a chicken. They will also use the funds to take the students on a field trip to Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center in South San Francisco to learn about the animals there and their habitats. As the culmination of the project, students will work together to create and publish a book that they will get to take home to share with their families. Hy says that most of her students do not have the means or resources to go on trips outside of city limits. This will give them the freedom to engage with live animals in a natural setting and have a joyful learning experience. 

Edward R. Taylor Elementary | Mirrors and Windows: Fostering Cultural Awareness through Literature 

Morgan Nilsen, fourth grade Spanish bilingual teacher, received $5,000 to fund the purchase of literature that will enrich his Spanish bilingual students’ sense of self and understanding of other cultures. Nilsen explains, “Our project draws inspiration from Grace Lin’s TED Talk, where she beautifully explained how a book can serve as both a mirror, reflecting a child’s own experiences and culture, and a window, offering insights into the lives and cultures of others. To enrich the educational experiences of my students, I propose to invest in culturally diverse ‘mirror’ books; that allow them to see themselves in literature and ‘window books’ that introduce them to new perspectives and communities. This project will not only promote reading and literacy but also foster empathy, cultural awareness, and emotional well-being among our students.”  

Nilsen adds that the funds will also go to developing comfortable reading spaces to foster a sense of community within the classroom, encouraging collaboration and positive interactions among students. Ultimately, this project addresses the holistic development of each child, ensuring they have access to resources that promote emotional well-being, inclusivity, and joy in learning. 

Marshall Elementary | Unidos Todos, Somos Familia 

Elaine Ellis, social worker, received $5,000 to fund her grant project, ‘Unidos todos, somos familia’ which translates to ‘all united, we are family’ and forms the final verse in Marshall Elementary’s school song. This project – an expansion of last year’s funded grant – is part of the school’s Community Walks project, where teachers collaborate with families to develop a map of places of significance in the school’s neighborhood and invite families to join the students for a field trip to visit these places and meet community members. The children will come back with photos and memories to create a book through student writing projects, concluding with a celebration of the entire project. 

“Our community mapping project connects to the theme ‘Create Joy’ when it addresses social emotional learning and whole child equity,” said Ellis. “Our project supports students’ sense of belonging and self-esteem building by honoring their strengths and helping them to recognize the strengths of their peers. They learn to see themselves in individual cultural and family differences and then create one collective book.” 

Marshall Elementary | The Happening in the Present Moment – Mindfulness for Little People 

Nadya Bratt, principal of Marshall Elementary, received $3,200 to implement the Inner Explorer (IE) program which entails 5-10 minutes audio-guided mindfulness sessions available in English and Spanish and can be accessed both in classrooms and at home by students and their families. According to Bratt, through the IE program, Marshall Elementary aims to “empower all our students, many of whom are facing socioeconomic challenges and are working to heal trauma, by nurturing their emotional resilience and creating a more inclusive school community. IE’s mindfulness practices equip students with essential emotional regulation skills so they can feel calm and centered, allowing them to focus on academic endeavors to prepare for a brighter future.”  

Tenderloin Community School | TCS Outdoor Garden Learning STEM Experience  

Paul Lister, principal of Tenderloin Community School, received $4,700 to place protective netting around the school’s rooftop playground. Lister says, “This will solve two problems: 1) create shade for the intense afternoon sunshine that often overheats students while at recess and causes them to feel sluggish and affects their learning in the classroom. 2) Prevents problems where students are watching or interacting with drug users surrounding our school.” Lister stresses the importance of this project in providing joy in students’ day by preventing them “from traumatic exposure to the threats adults present outside of the building grounds. It allows a child to be more of a child and not have to think about the dangers outside of school. It was an idea suggested by parents at community meetings and the parent body would be excited to learn that their wishes came true in regards to keeping our scholars to focus on the fun of recess rather than the sun/heat or the scary things.” Lister also adds that once the netting is in place, students will have the opportunity to decorate it with their own artwork. 

Visitacion Valley Elementary | Growing Joyful Students and Community with School Garden Work Days  

Anna Chan, third grade teacher, received $4,100 to fund a community garden project and make a more beautiful green space in their school. Chan will host community garden days and will use grant funds to buy plants and gardening equipment, provide food and incentives for participating in events, and offer translation services to make it accessible to all families. Chan explained that this project will be collaborative and involve input from students and the community and will allow students to take lead by researching the kind of plants and trees that would work best in the garden.  

“This project will ‘create joy’ by creating lasting green spaces in our school that will positively affect students’ well-being as well as provide science and nature educational experiences,” said Chan. “Many studies show a strong connection between exposure to green spaces and mental health benefits in children. Children who interact with nature do better with regard to resilience and lowering stress, which is a huge need in our community after the last few years of shutdowns and uncertainty. The garden work days will also allow students, families, and school staff to contribute to a space that we build and grow together as a community.” 

Middle Schools: 

Bessie Carmichael Middle | Outdoor Classroom Enlivening  

Elizabeth Reiff, seventh grade science teacher, received over $4,724 to enliven Bessie Carmichael Middle School’s outdoor classroom. Through this project, Reiff aims to provide a pleasant and vibrant space for students in which to play and learn. According to Reiff, “Supplies will be used by the Eco Action elective class and the Garden Club to improve and maintain the outdoor classroom, as well as by the community during two community work days, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. A pleasant, green, vibrant, growing space on our very urban school campus will create a joyful environment for students and the whole school community.” 

James Denman Middle | Career and Technical Education Arts, Media and Entertainment  

Henry Francisco, Career and Technical Education Arts (CTE) teacher, received over $9,700 to fund the development of his elective course titled “CTE Arts, Media and Entertainment (AME).” In this course, Francisco will lead students in the design process to create skateboard deck designs and posters for an art and design exhibition in Spring 2024. Francisco explained, “Students will use the design thinking framework, involving five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. They will create thumbnails and sketches by using Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Express to create several thumbnails of design that represents their identity… Moreover, SEL and community learning will take place by doing research and collaborative work on what makes up their respective identities and how it relates to the larger school community.”  

James Denman Middle School | School Wide Outdoor Ed Program 

Drake Pillsbury, science teacher, received $10,000 to purchase camping equipment for seventh and eighth grade camping trips for this year and for years to come. In particular, the funds will be used to purchase enough four person tents and sleeping bags for camping trips for 75 students at a time. According to Pillsbury, “It is important that we can purchase all the same make and model of tents, as one of the learning goals of the trips is to teach students independence by having them put up and take down their own tents.”  

Pillsbury underscores not only the importance of outdoor education, but its impact and ability to cultivate joy in student populations with limited access to such experiences. Pillsbury says that activities such as “time spent playing on the beach, marshmallow roasting, and SEL games… allow students to get in touch with their younger selves and just be kids. We often watch kids spend an hour or more just burying each other in the sand or tossing sticks into the water. This experience allows our students, who tend to have high trauma loads and high ACE scores, to re-regulate themselves and have a school-connected experience that lessens rather than increases their trauma load.”  

Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School | MLK Digital Art and Design  

Jackson Whittington, art teacher, received $10,000 to help establish a Digital Art and Design program at MLK that will benefit the 150 middle school students enrolled in the program.  

The funds will be used to purchase tablets and styluses in order to teach and practice digital drawing and painting, character design, graphic design, 3-D modeling, animation and more. Students will study digital art and learn to use software applications to take their ideas from sketch to finished work including comics/graphic novels, toys, packaging, short films and videos. Whittington stresses that an art program like this can act as a catalyst for his students’ futures and “illuminate opportunities for career paths and entrepreneurship, both as young people and in their future adult lives.” Therefore, not only will Whittington’s students have a chance to creatively express themselves and reap the joyous benefits of doing so in the present moment, but will also open more possibilities to pursue something that brings them joy in their future careers. Whittington says, “Having access to technology and tools that often seem out of reach in our highly inequitable city and school system will spark a sense of possibility, belonging, and innovation in the digital spaces that so many students engage in as audience but may feel gatekept out of.” 

Willie Brown Jr. Middle| After School Dance Club & Collaboration with Loco Bloco 

Benjamin Koscielak, music teacher at Willie Brown Jr. Middle School, received $7,000 in funding to pursue a partnership with local arts organization Loco Bloco, a Mission district-based organization that provides classes and instruction in Afro-Latino drumming and dancing. In collaboration with Loco Bloco, Koscielak plans to start an after-school dance club that celebrates 150 middle school students’ African American or Latinx heritage through teaching forms of Afro-Latino music and dance and provides students with a diverse representation among their teachers. The students’ goal is to perform with Loco Bloco in the annual San Francisco Carnaval parade and present a school Arts Showcase which will include performances of the music and dance students learn with Loco Bloco.  

High Schools:

June Jordan School for Equity | Pie Ranch Experience 

Giulio Sorro, health teacher, received $5,000 to take approximately 20 students for an intensive three-day overnight experience at Pie Ranch in Pescadero during a June Jordan School for Equity break. Students will participate in hands-on activities involving farming, food preparation, and food justice education. 

“Taking our urban, under-resourced students away from the city to a farm opens them to a whole new world,” explains Sorro. “For many of our students this will be a first-time experience and one that connects them to nature and its healing powers. It literally puts them in touch with the earth and the food they eat. Being able to look at a night sky away from the city is magical. To do these things as a community, with students working, preparing food, and spending an overnight together is joyful, healing, bonding, and a unique opportunity for social and emotional growth.” 

Mission High | Exploring Food with Friends  

Sara Kosoff, health teacher, received $10,000 for funding their project for an experiential and project-based learning about food. Kosoff will use this grant – an expansion from last year’s funded Create Joy project – to create a monthly seasonal cooking class and explore San Francisco’s farmers markets with her 380 students. Learning outcomes from this project include expense management skills, an understanding of local food systems through shopping at the farmer’s market, and acquiring knowledge of nutritional value of foods and kitchen skills through preparing foods.   

Kosoff hopes to nurture a joyful practice around food with her students and says, “Sometimes I measure success by the amount of laughter in my class and the ways that students are care for each other. This is hard to measure quantitatively but it is qualitative data that is profound. Our students yearn for connection and giving them a structure that is predicable (cooking classes each month) but also spontaneous (one great field trip) is the magic combination.” 

Phillip And Sala Burton Academic High | Black Joy: A Celebration of Black Culture and History 

Nikki Hatfield, Pathways and Partnership Specialist, received $10,000 to fund a school-wide project that will impact all 1,400 students of Burton High School. The Black Student Union (BSU) at Burton is organizing a school-wide celebration during the month of February to celebrate Black culture and history that Hatfield says is intended to center student voice and leadership. According to Hatfield, “Faculty and students will be given an opportunity to work with community partners, parents, and organizations to build a sense of community and uplift Black culture. In efforts to combat systemic racism within our educational institutions we are proposing the prioritization of our most vulnerable youth be given agency to build a commemoration of the beauty and complexity of Black history. Our main goal is to build students’ sense of identity, their emotional intelligence and ensure our young people feel empowered to lead events, workshops, and the Black history month assembly.” Hatfield also explained that through this project, members of the BSU will “experience leadership roles that will develop a higher level of confidence in their organization skills and community leadership.”  

Phillip And Sala Burton Academic High | Bring Change 2 Mind Mental Health Awareness Day 

Kevin Odle, Special Education Teacher/Instructional Reform Facilitator, received a $6,360 school-wide grant to support Burton High’s Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M) club with organizing a Mental Health Awareness Day. Odle says, “The goal of the event is to provide access to mental and physical health information and activities to Burton High School students and staff, as well as destigmatizing these issues in our school community. If students have a better understanding of mental and physical health issues along with the root causes and ways to avoid challenges, they will be happier overall and better prepared to learn.” Odle explains that this project will benefit staff as well and help them better be able to understand students’ struggles and acquire the skills to communicate with them more empathetically which will foster improved student-teacher relations. To disseminate this important information about mental health, student leaders and members of BC2M will plan a school-wide event and partner with community-based organizations who will present at their event. The students will also hold a raffle for students who come to the event to encourage attendance.  

Phillip And Sala Burton Academic High | Unified Sports Program: A Therapeutic and Inclusion School Initiative 

Brian Pan, physical education teacher at Burton High, received a $5,000 grant to fund an inclusive sports program and adaptive equipment to be used by students. Pan says, “This inclusive program offers students with and without disabilities the opportunity to be in a competitive setting while the core purpose is having fun. The adaptive equipment will be used to develop Unified Athletes’ motor skills to build their autonomy in playing a sport. Some examples of Adaptive equipment are oversized or soft foam bats, soccer balls, or basketballs.” Pan will also purchase a universal sports uniform suitable for all seasons of sports in order to build confidence and comradery among team members. At the end of the season, each athlete will be awarded a trophy.  

Congratulations to all grant recipients, and thank you to everyone who submitted an application this past grant cycle. We will open up applications for the Spring grant cycle in December. Learn more about the Create Joy Grant and educators from eligible schools can apply here