Fifth grade students at Navajo Elementary School

Fifth grade students at Navajo Elementary School work on the Intel-funded Empathy Project. Fifth grade teacher Brandy Wilson was the only teacher in Scottsdale to receive the $2,500 grant. 

Among the more than 430 applications submitted to Intel’s “40 for 40 Teacher Grants,” 44 were chosen as recipients of the $2,500 grant.

And the only teacher chosen in Scottsdale was Brandy Wilson, a fifth-grade teacher at Navajo Elementary School.

“I received a phone call from my principal with the first words being, ‘Um, congratulations, Brandy!’” Wilson said. “At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but quickly remembered about the grant I applied for a few months ago.”

The Intel-funded “40 for 40 Teacher Grants” fund Arizona public school teachers’ respective science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM) projects. 

“The overwhelming number of applications received is a testament to the wonderful work that teachers throughout Arizona are doing to provide vital STEAM experiences to their students – often with little to no resources,” said Kim Graham, Arizona Education Foundation executive director. 

Wilson sought the grant for her Empathy Project, which would “help bridge the gap between school learning and the world.”

“The goal of the Empathy Project, and really every project our students engage in, is to help them see the value they have and how their learning is not just to check an academic box,” Wilson said.

As part of the project, students research local charities they might actually get to impact and write a persuasive essay explaining why their fellow students should choose their charity.

Then, the voting begins.

“Students vote blindly and democratically for the winning essay, revealing the charity that will receive the fruits of their learning: about 70 sewn items, designed and made entirely by fifth graders,” Wilson said.

During this stage, students design a sewn item, create the pattern entirely on their own, learn valuable measuring tools, hand stitch and machine-sew their projects.

The grant “will be used to fund the purchase of more sewing machines and consumable items like needles, stuffing, and colored fabric in all shades,” Wilson said. “Yellow was a hot color this year!”

Funding will be distributed in early July, and Wilson said her fifth-grade team will lay the groundwork for writing skills in the fall. The project will then pick up momentum in the spring. 

“However, students already come in ready with their fresh ideas in the fall!” she added. “It’s exciting to watch the transformation in their writing, research skills and their ideas as the months progress. The brainstorming happens far before the Empathy Project actually takes flight.”

The deadline to complete the project is May, around the same time Navajo Elementary School holds its STEAM Showcase.

“Students beam with pride when they share the personally created, one-of-a-kind patterns, and polished persuasive essays,” Wilson said. 

“While they have so many other artifacts of learning — interactive notebooks, solid rockets designed with ASU Rocketry Team, bottle rockets designed in collaborative groups, adhesives commercials, cigar box guitars with 3D printed components, etc. — many still gravitate toward their Empathy Project piece because it holds a special, very personal place in each of their hearts,” she added.

Wilson said she misses her weekly class meetups but now she and her students meet for games of Scattergories and “connection questions” via ZOOM.

“I can only hope that when this ends and we’re reunited in our school again, we’ll all be even more skilled at solving problems with limited resources and adapting to change. We’re learning life skills right now, too,” she said.

At this time, Wilson said one way people can help support the school is through tax-credit contributions. 

The dollar-for-dollar state tax credit funds resources and experiences for the students, including the fifth-grade students’ three-day STEAM camping trip to Tonto Creek Camp in Payson, which costs about $100 per student.

This year, students learned about astronomy, created motor-powered amusement park rides, studied sustainable energy, went for hikes and caught crayfish in the creek.

“So many of our students have never been on a hike or been out in nature. For many of them, this was their first learning experience outside of school,” Wilson said, adding:

“We would be honored to have more community members consider donating through this format to Navajo Elementary,” she said. “This will fund the experiences and resources that make us the dynamic neighborhood STEAM school that is student-centered and focused on collaborative learning, problem-solving, and maximum engagement.”