Beebe teacher receives DAR classroom grant

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published August 13, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Carol Rolf

Searcy Mayor David Morris, fourth from left, presents a key to the city of Searcy to Dave Sanderson, third from left, prior to the United Way of White County Kickoff Dinner on Aug. 3. Representing the United Way of White County at the ceremony are James Horton, from left, campaign chairman; Kristen Richardson, campaign co-chairman; Pat Downs, executive director; and Donny Gray, president.

— When Gail Vaden arrived at the Beebe Schools Auditorium on Monday morning for the annual Welcome Back to School meeting for faculty and staff, little did she know she would be called down to the front for recognition.

Vaden, 61, was recognized as the Arkansas recipient of a 2017 Helen Pouch Memorial Fund Classroom Grant from the National Junior Membership Committee of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. One $500 grant was awarded to a classroom teacher in each state.

“I was surprised,” said Vaden, who teaches fifth-grade social studies and literacy at Beebe Middle School. “I had thought about it a few times, but I know when you apply for grants, you just have to wait and see.”

Jayne Spears of Beebe, Beebe School District receptionist and honorary regent of the Major Jacob Gray DAR chapter in Jacksonville, had made an announcement to teachers in the Beebe School District in March about the availability of the national grant. The Major Jacob Gray DAR chapter sponsored Vaden’s application.

“Gail Vaden is an amazing teacher,” Spears said. “She had just been named Beebe Schools Educator of the Year by the Beebe Chamber of Commerce when I sent out the word about the grant program. It was so difficult not to tell her about her winning the $500. It was so special to make the announcement in front of her co-workers.”

Jerrie Townsend of Stuttgart, Arkansas DAR state regent, was among DAR representatives gathered to present Vaden with the award.

“We are so proud of Gail Vaden and the proposal she submitted,” Townsend said. “The Helen Pouch Memorial Fund Classroom Grant Award program honors teachers and their hard work in the classroom furthering the education of our students.”

Townsend said grant applicants must be teachers in kindergarten through the 12th grade and be sponsored by a local DAR chapter.

Townsend said proposed projects for the grant must directly benefit students in the classroom. She said funds may be used for supplies and educational programs, but the applicant must detail how these items will help to further the educational goals of the DAR.

Vaden plans to use the grant money to purchase biographies of famous Revolutionary War-era Americans. She said the students will use these biographies to read history “critically and create legitimate argument essays based on the books.”

“Students have shown immense interest in the Revolutionary War this school year, particularly when challenged to design argument essays on the patriot vs. loyalist [issue],” Vaden said.

She said to add the critical component of debate to the current curriculum, “students require more research material, specifically biographies of famous Americans. These books will enable students to develop strong claims, examples and counterclaims for effective essays and debates.”

Vaden said the students will read the biographies, write their essays, develop a plan for oral arguments and participate in classroom debates.

“Next spring, when the students participate in these debates, we plan to invite DAR members, members of the Arkansas Historical Society, local law professionals and Arkansas state congressmen to serve on a panel to determine the most influential hero of the American Revolution,” she said.

“Beebe Middle School is all about promoting what kids can do with what they learn. These debates will do just that,” said Vaden, who is beginning her 23rd year as an educator.

Vaden said the project “is innovative in that it includes state standards in social studies, reading and writing.”

“This plan allows students the opportunities of reading rich text documents in the biographies of important individuals in American history,” she said. “It provokes critical thinking and decision making in relation to issues of America’s past, which, in turn, equips scholars with necessary skills to make decisions as citizens of America’s future.”

Vaden said the project is innovative in the area of community involvement as well. She said the students’ interaction with community leaders and historians will increase the children’s communication and meaningful debate skills.

“Finally, the innovation of the plan provides an environment in which scholars learn how to make and support decisions about which they are concerned in a format that is honorable to themselves and those of differing opinions,” Vaden said.

Vaden was born in Mississippi but moved with her family to the Snow Lake community in Desha County when she was 2. She attended elementary school in that area, where, she said, “First and second grades were in one room, third and fourth grades in one room, fifth and sixth grades in one room, and seventh and eighth grades in one room. Then when you were ready for high school, you went to Elaine.”

By the time she was in high school, her family had moved to Hughes. She graduated from Hughes High School in 1971.

Vaden got married in 1974 and raised a family before she went to college to pursue her own education. She and her husband, Danny, have three children: a daughter, Danika Wallace of Blanchard, Oklahoma; and two sons, Daniel Vaden of Searcy and Cody Vaden of Beebe. Gail and Danny have four grandchildren: Eric Vaden, Fisher Wallace, Drake Wallace and Cavin Vaden.

After her children were grown, Gail Vaden attended Harding University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and teaching in 1993 and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 2008. She taught at the Sunshine School in Searcy for 8 1/2 years before coming to the Beebe School District.

Vaden said she would encourage any teacher to apply for grants such as the Helen Pouch Memorial Fund Classroom Grant.

She said if a friend or co-worker “passes information along to you about a grant, take a look at it.

“Find something in your field that interests you. Do your research. … Follow your heart.”

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