Lakewood OH

Rocky River Educational Foundation helps teachers bring lessons to life

Rocky River

By Sue Botos

With a closer eye being kept on school funding, teachers are often asked to do more with less. But because of the Rocky River Education Foundation (RREF), teachers in the district are able to utilize resources that otherwise would not be in the budget.

RREF recently announced the recipients of its 16 fall grants, in the amount of $23,000, which will be distributed to departments in all four city schools, including science, art, math, English, special education and music. The amount was an increase over last year’s fall total of $18,586.67 amounting to 12 grants.

Additionally, RREF provided $1,000 in “Creative Cash” to each school and to the Beach Education Center. These funds are to be used at the discretion of the building principal.

Since it began in 1984, RREF has awarded nearly $500,000 in grant funds and more than $500,000 in scholarships to Rocky River High School seniors.

According to RREF’s Jim Spallino, the organization looks for requests that are “well thought out and viable” when considering teacher petitions for funds. “We ask the grant recipients to provide written follow-up that lets us know how the grant money is being used, and whether the expectations and benefits are being realized. We also invite grant recipients to attend our board meetings to make presentations. Those presentations are fun for the teachers to show off their creativity and how the grant is benefiting the students in the district. The presentations are motivating for us because we get to see how we are making an impact,” Spallino added.

Among this year’s RREF recipients is Kensington Intermediate School teacher Linda Rocco, who received equipment for her unit on mass, force and motion. “The acquisition of specially designed cars, ramps, weights and timers … will give my fifth-grade science students the hands-on experiences they need to truly understand the concepts of force and motion. These abstract concepts are difficult for young minds to grasp. Formulas on a piece of paper are often meaningless. On the other hand, (giving them) the opportunity to experiment and investigate how the cars move with added weight and increased inclines will provide a concrete basis for understanding, and at the same time make learning fun!” she said.

High school English teacher Becky Taylor imagined her ninth-graders creating comic books based on Homer’s “Odyssey.” She was able to purchase the necessary software and printers for the project with her grant, and her students recently shared their work with Goldwood Primary School second-graders. “My students are ready to create a flawless comic book because they know there is at least one little person who will read this book over and over and keep it for a long time,” Taylor stated.

A number of teachers have used their grants to purchase iPads to get students “up close and personal” with their subjects. Past winner Sara Ziemnik secured 15 iPads for her classroom and brought the past to life for her high school history classes. “These have really done a lot to show my students that history is not just names and dates and memorizing facts, but real people with real stories influencing American and world history,” she stated.

As part of their projects, Ziemnik said that her students used the iMovie app to create documentaries about growing up in the city during the 1950s by pairing interviews, done through the Rocky River Historical Society, with pictures on the RREF database. Her classes also interviewed Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, and veterans of that war. “(We) used their personal stories along with images from the Library of Congress to create a very moving personal narrative,” Ziemnik noted. Students also studied maps and archives of the Cold War-era Nike missile base in what is now Tri-City Park.

“All of these projects helped my students to see that individuals truly influence history, and even a small town like Rocky River, Ohio, played a large role in American history,” Ziemnik added.

RREF’s largest fundraiser, its annual dinner auction, will be held March 23 at Westwood Country Club. For information about this event or on how to support the RREF mission, visit



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