Published: Apr 04, 2011 7:33 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 04, 2011 4:34 PM EDT

BRADENTON, Fla  - Two Southwest Florida schools can purchase valuable learning tools for their classrooms thanks to Bealls Department Stores, Inc.

Varsity Lakes Middle School and Meadow Park Elementary School are both recipients of Bealls and Whistles Grants.

Varsity Lakes Middle School will use the $10,000 from Bealls to expand an active, hands-on curriculum called Kagan Cooperative Learning Strategies. Specifically, the money will pay for teachers to attend training workshops, to purchase resource books and for Kagan coaches to assist in classrooms and provide feedback to teachers.

“By using the Kagan curriculum, teachers are able to bring things to life in the classroom,” said Varsity Lakes principal Scott Cook. “As a result, students are more engaged and get more out of their lessons.”

Meadow Park Elementary School plans to use its funding from Bealls to improve student literacy through three existing programs. The first is to train teachers using Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies, which involve active, hands-on learning. The second is to combine the school’s literacy intervention program for students who have trouble reading with the Reader’s Theatre program. Reader’s Theatre is designed to build fluency through reading aloud. Finally, the “keeper book” program will promote family literacy. Every other Friday, students and their families gather and pick out three books to borrow and one book to keep for their home libraries.

"Our school motto is ‘Together We Succeed.’ What better way to increase our literacy programs with students, staff, and families than with a strong community partnership with Bealls," said Meadow Park principal Jan Gravelin. "Plus the students had a great time working together to make a video to apply for the funding!"

The schools were awarded the grants through the Bealls and Whistles for Schools program. More than 350 schools across Florida applied for funding of which 76 were chosen as finalists. The finalists were narrowed down to ten winners based on a compelling need, the ability to execute the proposal and the overall creative presentation of the supportive materials.

“We were excited and impressed with the sincerity and creativity shown by all the applicants,” said Mary Beth Fox, Vice President of Marketing for Bealls. “We are also concerned by the overwhelming need that we see across Florida and we hope to lead by example in showing that corporate Florida can and should partner with our schools now more than ever – Florida’s business can play a vital role in helping Florida’s kids.”

The inaugural year of the Bealls and Whistles for Schools program is coming at an ideal time because of large gaps in education funding due to state budget cuts of more than $3 billion.