McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Awards Innovative Projects and Aspiring Educators over $146K to Improve Learning


Classrooms benefitting from McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation’s investment in youth have a lot to celebrate this school year. Newly funded projects promote improved literacy and problem-solving skills for at risk youth. Whether it be through sustainability, playwriting or 3D stop motion animation, students in these classrooms will be experiencing new ways of learning together.

Every January, the Foundation opens a limited call for proposals from creative educators who want to enrich their school, classroom and community. The call is so competitive, the application closes when 350 applications are received, which happens earlier every year. For the 2017-18 school year, $146,186 in grants and scholarships have been disbursed by the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation to fund the most exceptional proposals.

Sarah J. McCarthey, President of the Foundation, stated, "This year’s outstanding projects are innovative, collaborative and promise to improve learning by placing students in active learning experiences; some projects include full scale theatrical productions. Projects are taking place not only in classrooms and through teacher professional development programs, but also in diverse locations such as the Lakota/Dakota reservation.”

This year’s Academic Enrichment projects include solving sustainability problems and writing plays, publishing a sports magazine and creating 3D stop motion animations of Lakota/Dakota traditional legends.

An enrichment project called Quest meets weekly, allowing students to identify and solve real-world problems by encouraging hands-on, student-driven learning. This effort at Marian Middle School challenges students to learn and apply traditional academic knowledge so they can develop critical thinking, problem solving, leadership and life skills. They have focused on the topic of sustainability – sustainability in their school, in the larger community, and across the globe. Students have been applying math and science skills and using empathy to create solutions to real-world problems. Each year the Quest topic will change encouraging students to work in groups to solve everyday problems.

In another project, Playmaking, students ages 9 – 11 will be engaged in the fundamentals of playwriting over the course of 10 weeks, culminating in a full-scale production of the student written plays by adult actors. After writing their plays, professional actors will rehearse student work with a professional director and a composer while students observe the process. The goal of the Playmaking project is to support the growth and development of the students’ literacy learning while validating their unique artistic voices.

No Benchwarmers Allowed is a unique, hands-on literacy project that will connect middle school students’ love of sports to reading and writing. The participants plan to: 1) create the first nationally available sports magazine written entirely by middle school students, and 2) to offer a language arts class that will teach the traditional standards in an engaging way using sports literature and sports writing. Students will write sports books and movie reviews, interview athletes, write opinion pieces about sports and compete in sports writing contests.

Freeze Frame Legends is a year-long 6th-8th grade Gifted and Talented (GT) culturally relevant arts integrated project. With assistance from the Lakota/Dakota Culture teacher, the GT teacher and students will conduct research and interview community elders about traditional Lakota/Dakota legends. Students will engage in the process of converting these time-honored oral accounts to the progressive digital age through lyric writing, music composing, creating visual arts prototypes, and using the media arts method of 3D stop motion animation. It will be up to the students to use their imagination and the descriptive stories shared orally to create the 3D animation that best personifies each legend. Students will be transformed from passive consumers to active creators and storytellers.

The Teacher Development projects include engaging teachers in strategies to introduce science to young children through guided pretend play. Growing to Scale will support the expansion of strategies presented bilingually in The Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Young Children through Pretend Play. The Academic Literacy Institute aims to improve the instructional competencies of Bozeman School District teachers to better serve two identified at-risk populations: low income/low literacy English-only students and English Language learners, for whom English is not their primary language. In Design Thinking in Middle School: A Human-Centered Approach to 21st Century Learning will engage teachers in intensive, ongoing professional development to transition from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered, design-based learning approach requiring collaboration to develop cross-curricular and student-centered projects.

In total, the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation funded four Academic Enrichment Grants serving underserved, predominantly minority students; three Teacher Development Grants, serving similar populations; and three student teacher scholarships each listed below:

Academic Enrichment Recipients

  •     Quest – St. Louis, Missouri
  •     Playmaking – Los Angeles, California
  •     No Benchwarmers Allowed – New Palestine, Indiana
  •     Freeze Frame Legends – Mandan, North Dakota

Teacher Development Recipients

  •     Growing to Scale: Theatrical Journeys – Washington, DC
  •     Design Thinking in Middle School – San Pedro, California
  •     Academic Literacy Institute – Bozeman, Montana

Student Teacher Scholarship Recipients

  •     Mayte DePaz, University of Texas, Austin, TX
  •     Maria Landeros, Stephen F. Austin University, Nacogdoches, TX
  •     Christopher Marmalejo, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA

The mission of McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation is to serve as a catalyst in maximizing the skills and creativity of educators at the K-12 levels and in pioneering approaches to teaching that result in dynamic student learning. The Foundation sponsors proposals that enhance student learning and educational quality, paying particular attention to those that best serve under-funded schools. The application opens January 15 of each year and remains open until 350 submissions are received or by April 15. Proposals designed with significant potential to enrich the educational experiences for youth are encouraged. Applicants should carefully review the application instructions, the Foundation’s blog and funded project directory before applying. All are available at

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