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IPEI Awards Third Connecting Classrooms Grant

The Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) has awarded its third Connecting Classrooms Grant this year, which will give 150 DeWitt Middle School seventh-graders the opportunity to engage in a mock archeological dig this spring. Boynton Middle School seventh-graders will join the project in fall 2018.
Connecting Classrooms Grants fund large-scale projects that enhance student engagement and support learning consistent with school and district goals. The grants support collaborative partnerships between teachers and staff within a school, across grade levels and/or between schools.
With the latest grant, DeWitt science teachers Wayne Gottlieb and Catherine Exantus will be able to purchase supplies (skulls, femurs and tools) and hire an expert for a problem-based learning activity in which students investigate hominin evolution. Culminating the seventh-grade evolution unit, fossils will be layered in a mixture of sand and plaster of paris for a simulation archaeological dig led by a local archeologist.
“Students will collect and analyze data, using them to develop an explanation for the anatomical differences between modern animals and their fossil ancestors,” Gottlieb said in the grant application. “Students are naturally fascinated by our recent ancestors, the ancient hominins (Australopithicus and Homo erectus), so it’s fortunate that John Gurche, world renowned hominin expert is part of our community. This gives us an opportunity to provide students with realistic hominin skulls to analyze and an expert to consult.”
The project teaches concepts of evolution, geology and ecology and connects to other disciplines—math through measuring and grid design, English Language Arts through journaling, and art through skull drawings. The materials purchased through the IPEI grant will enable the project to be replicated over several years.
“Project based learning, a real-life exploration of ideas and concepts by students make education engaging and worthwhile. IPEI is proud to support Wayne and DeWitt’s work in this area,” said Steven Manley, IPEI’s Executive Director.
The next deadlines for 2017-18 Connecting Classrooms Grants proposals are January 17 and March 28, at midnight.
IPEI is a not-for-profit organization that connects the Ithaca City School District and the community through collaboration, engagement, gifts and grants. For more information, see or contact
256-IPEI (4734) or

Belle Sherman
Beverly J Martin
Cayuga Heights
Fall Creek
South Hill
Boynton Middle
DeWitt Middle
Ithaca HS
Lehman Alternative


Ithaca City School District
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent
400 Lake Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-2101