South Orange Middle School HSA Teacher Grants Fund 13 Projects for 2022-23

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From the SOMS HSA:

The South Orange Middle School Home-School Association (SOMS HSA) carried on the tradition of its annual Teacher Grants program by awarding $5,000 to thirteen worthy projects proposed by SOMS teachers.

The successful applicants comprised a wide range of SOMS faculty members: librarian and school newspaper editor Lora Tazewell; English Language Arts teachers Kyndell Pierce (sixth grade), Daniel Bailey-Yavonditte (seventh grade), and Shauna McArdle (eighth grade); Special Education self-contained classroom teachers Caitlin Dennehy and Ashley Saraceno; performing arts teachers Kara Bowe (Drama), William Cook (Orchestra), Chelsea DiDiego (Band), and Jacob Ezzo (Chorus); seventh-grade Social Studies teacher Daniah Aburomi; Physical Education teacher Elyssia Noble; sixth-grade Special Education math teacher RaeMona Chance; and eighth-grade Science teacher Jania Bibighaus.

SOMS HSA Teacher Grant recipients Ashley Saraceno, RaeMona Chance, Caitlin Dennehy, Shauna McArdle, Lora Tazewell, Chelsea DiDiego, and Kara Bowe. Far R: SOMS HSA Teacher Grant Coordinator Jiming Liang.

The HSA was impressed by the inclusive spirit of many proposals. Mr. Bailey-Yavonditte’s grant, for example, will add many books with queer characters to the shared libraries of the seventh-grade English classrooms. “It has been found that students pick up texts they can see themselves represented in,” Mr. Bailey-Yavonditte observed. The books will therefore help encourage “a vibrant reading life” among the large queer community at SOMS.

The performing arts faculty will use their grant to buy painting supplies so that SOMS students can adorn the hallway outside the performing arts classrooms with portraits of actors, musicians, and visual artists representing the full spectrum of racial and gender identities at the school.

In a project co-run by the Guidance and Student Study Team departments, Ms. Aburomi will purchase posters to display in hallways throughout the school recognizing the many holidays celebrated by SOMS students and staff members, including such traditionally underrepresented observances as Diwali, Ramadan/Eid al-Fitr, and Juneteenth.

Ms. Dennehy and Ms. Saraceno will stock their self-contained Special Education classrooms with interactive games and puzzles to support social interaction. Games like Connect Four, My Feelings, and checkers will “benefit the students in the multiple disabilities class as they work toward functional skill-based goals,” Ms. Dennehy explained.

Kathleen Hong, SOMS HSA co-president this year with Polly Kelekis, said that the teacher grants form an important part of the HSA’s mission. “Investing in our teachers through teacher grants directly enriches students’ overall educational experience,” Hong said. “It also strengthens the partnership between parents/caretakers and teachers at SOMS.”

Jiming Liang, this year’s HSA Teacher Grant Coordinator, convened a panel of six SOMS parents to review the grant applications, including HSA Equity & Inclusion co-chair Allyson Levy as well as the two HSA co-presidents.  “Each proposal demonstrates the dedication of our teachers to our children and the school,” Liang affirmed.

Congratulations and thanks to all of the SOMS HSA Teacher Grant recipients for their great work! To learn more about the grant program, please email



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