Molholm teacher lands funding for projects large and small

From tissues to textbooks, she’s got a plan for that

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/20/20

Between COVID-19, a cratering economy and another rough start for the Broncos, it can be difficult to find a lot of things to be thankful for these days. But for Monica Mendez it’s not difficult at …

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Molholm teacher lands funding for projects large and small

From tissues to textbooks, she’s got a plan for that

Posted

Between COVID-19, a cratering economy and another rough start for the Broncos, it can be difficult to find a lot of things to be thankful for these days. But for Monica Mendez it’s not difficult at all. Because even in this most difficult of years, she’s been reminded of the generosity of strangers and the goodwill of companies and organizations that reach out to help a good cause.

Mendez is a Reading Specialist at Molholm Elementary in Lakewood, who teaches children in first through fourth grade that are struggling with reading. This month, she was awarded $600 in funding from Sonic Corp., through the Limeades for Learning program, in coordination with an organization called Donors Choose.

Started in 2000 by a history teacher named Charles Best in the Bronx, New York, Donors Choose is a way to connect those who might want to donate to schools, to specific school projects that needed funding. Today, the program is open to every public school in America.

Mendez, who was familiar with the program, saw a great need at Molholm when she began teaching there, and sprung into action. Since then, she’s been registering the maximum, 10 projects at a time on the Donors Choose website, not just for her room, but for other teachers at the school as well. To take advantage of the program, teachers can upload projects with specific goals, and when donors go to the site they are able to look at the projects that need funding and give to whichever one they want to help out.

“If you have 10 projects listed at a time, it’s better odds of getting one funded,” Mendez said. “So as soon as a project funds and I can put another one up, I do.”

And since Molholm is listed as a Title 1 school, the need is genuine. Schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families are eligible for increased levels of funding through federal government. Of these, schools with a 40 percent or higher poverty level in the student body qualify for school-wide Title 1 assistance. Molholm is one of those schools. But even with the additional funding, it can be difficult to meet the pressing needs of a modern classroom.

Since she started listing projects, Mendez has been successful in getting several funded. She’s been able to get everything from basic necessities in the classroom like boxes of tissue and snacks, to valuable educational resources to help her students learn to read. She was even able to get each student in the school a new set of headphones, crucial for at-home learners during COVID-19, and equally valuable to students attending school in-person. One of her proudest achievements in helping to get projects funded can be seen when you walk into the school’s gym.

“When I first saw the equipment, the balls were flat and the mats were ripped so I helped the P.E. teacher run her Donors Choose,” Mendez said. “If you walk into the gym now, we have so much new equipment — thousands and thousands of dollars in new equipment.”

Current P.E. teacher Amber Jones is thankful and a bit in awe of what Mendez has been able to accomplish.

“I’ve taught at four different schools in the last 10 years and this school is the most well-stocked for P.E. It’s a little bit like P.E. heaven in here,” Jones said. “The equipment is incredible and most of it is in great shape. When I go to my other schools the equipment is older and broken and severely used.”

Jones said that without Donors Choose, she can’t even imagine what the equipment would look like. She said she also feels incredibly lucky to be able to provide the kids at Molholm such a solid P.E. experience.

The ability to empathize with people seems to come naturally to Mendez, and as she speaks of the kinship she feels for her students, her eyes reveal the smile being covered by her COVID-19 mask. Growing up in modest circumstances in Fort Morgan, Mendez said her parents both worked in a meatpacking plant when she was born, and she learned about hard work and helping others from a young age.

“My parents were union members who were constantly fighting for benefits and things like health care,” Mendez said. “They always taught me to help my community, but I never thought it would be through education.”

That changed when she started working as a migrant teachers assistant after graduating with a degree in Sociology and Ethnic Studies from CU Boulder. From there, she started teaching at a charter school which she said was a great next step and really prepared her for the challenges of public school teaching. Mendez said her life experience has helped her approach problems like narrowing the gap between kids who excel at reading and kids that don’t, and reducing the gap in resources between schools in wealthier neighborhoods and a scrappy, proud, Lakewood elementary school.

“What she’s done is incredible,” Jones said. “She’s like Santa Claus.

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