September 02, 2021

AFT grants fund local innovation

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Mike Emmi, Solvay Teachers Association
Caption: Mike Emmi, President of Solvay Teachers Association, shows some of the many items bought for students with AFT grant money. Photo provided.

If anyone knows about innovation, it is local union members who have had to reinvent most everything about their work as educators during pandemic times.

To support their efforts, the American Federation of Teachers again offers its Innovation Fund to help locals provide programs to deal with a swiftly changing world.

Grants have been provided for literacy, mindfulness training, internet hot spots, a staff wellness day, school library collections and carbon dioxide detectors. In the new round, projects can include culturally responsive pedagogy and trauma-informed curriculum, among many choices.

Return, Recover and Reimagine will provide short-term grants to help locals as they safely reopen schools and tap into extra educational options and emotional support for students. The application deadline is Oct. 3; more information can be found at

The Solvay Teachers Association was awarded funding in the last round of grants, and President Michael Emmi said he use some remaining money to order hot spots for families without internet access.

When the AFT grant money first arrived, he purchased calculators for students to use in math classes, clothing for students in need, and air purifiers for music class. He also bought books through First Book, Inc. to give to students.

“The school social worker Christine Rufo was my right-hand person in this grant,” he said. “She was my contact across all three buildings. Through her, we were able to detect what those needs were.”

In some cases, it was as basic as buying underwear and warm hoodies.

“It’s nice for families to be able to not have to worry,” Emmi said.

Grant money was also used to purchase snacks in each building, and each student was bought a reusable water bottle to keep hydrated.

To support teachers, the TA used grant money to buy coffee machines for staff lounges.

For the next round of AFT Innovation Fund grants, proposals can include strategies for students with special needs and English-learners, creating safe and welcoming environments for teachers and students, or developing instructional models to fit the circumstances.

Past recipients nationwide included a strong showing of New York locals. Massena Federation of Teachers got a grant for mindfulness education, including a special room for students and professional learning for educators and student ambassadors.

White Plains TA President Kara McCormick Lyons went into action with the local’s AFT grant, buying six freezers and seven refrigerators to build its food support program for students and families.

Copenhagen TA used grant money to develop a mindfulness curriculum, purchase yoga equipment, and expand its food backpack programs for hungry students.

In Lafargeville, the local bought mobile internet hotspots to meet learning needs in a rural area where internet access was not available.

The AFT Innovation Grant project is led by President Randi Weingarten and Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus, United Federation of Teachers.