Winners have been selected for the inaugural Creative Solutions in Education Grant program!

2023 Creative Solutions in Education Grant Winners

Architecture Incorporated established a new annual grant program in 2021 in celebration of the firm's 45th anniversary. The intent of this grant is to award multiple worth K-12 educators with a combined total of $5,000 in funding to help their students thrive and succeed. We sought after out-of-the-box ideas of all sizes to address teachers' challenges and encourage ingenuity in education.

Things were done a little differently this year. Because we were inspired by two great grants, we knew we couldn't pick just one. We decided to award two grant winners the full amount of money they requested. We are ecstatic to award multiple teachers and schools with the grant and are excited to watch their ideas flourish. 

We were very excited to receive 41 applications from across the region, many of which were very deserving so it was difficult to select the winners! To be eligible, the applicant must be a teacher in the state of South Dakota or within 100 miles of Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Grant applications can be for any amount up to $5,000. Grant materials can be used in a classroom, across a grade level, throughout a building, or district-wide, but cannot be for food. 

Prior to judging, our committee removed the applicant's name and school district from the application to remove any bias. Grants were judged on the following criteria: 

  • Clearly and concisely written
  • Enhances curriculum or teaching standards
  • The need/rationale is explained
  • There are clearly defined outcomes/benefits
  • The requested grant funds are specified and supported
  • It will have a positive impact on the community
  • Are there other funding avenues available?

The winners highlighted below scored highly in all of the criteria listed above.  

IMG_20231012_141139Solarize Jefferson

Melissa Hittner
Sioux Falls School District - Jefferson High School
“Solarize Jefferson” is a pilot project that stems from a project-based unit Melissa Hittner designed for her students in her Advanced Placement Environmental Science course last year. Students were to research implementation of renewable energy throughout the community. Student groups then presented a variety of different pitches regarding renewable energy, but a specific proposal stuck out from her students Keegan and Shania. These two created a proposal to incorporate solar panels to offset electricity and emissions at Jefferson High School. They dedicated months of research, contacts, and fundraising beyond the scope of the classroom in an attempt to turn it into a reality. 
From Keegan and Shania:
"Our area of focus aims to incorporate solar panels at Jefferson High School, providing a student learning opportunity while making the Sioux Falls School district more environmentally friendly and sustainable. We have successfully secured approval for an initial pilot project placing solar panels on Sioux Falls Jefferson High School's cold storage shed. Our design consists of fastening systems, a battery storage system, and the utilization of six solar PV panels mounted on the face of the on-property storage shed. Through the active involvement and support from Mr. Dan Conrad (Jefferson Principal) and the appropriate staff within the Sioux Falls School [District] and a commitment from Mr. Dennis Williams (Williams Power Systems) to manage and install our pilot solar system, we are on pace to make our project a reality."
In addition, students in AP Environmental Science, Environmental Science, and Physics classes at Jefferson High School will have ample opportunities to learn about renewable energy, solar energy, carbon footprint, environmental impact, the sun, and how energy works, specifically with the devices that are directly impacting their own school building. 
"This pilot project could be the first phase of the proposal: providing solar energy to meet at least 50% of the energy requirements for Jefferson High School," noted Keegan and Shania. "If that were to happen, it would set a remarkable example of what is possible, capture national attention, and send a message of hope to all South Dakotans and citizens across the U.S."
They have continued to fundraise for this project and currently have a GoFundMe created where they are accepting donations to reach their $20,000 goal. Donations can be made here: ➡ 
In addition, a Sioux Falls engineering consulting firm we often partner with, Associated Consulting Engineering Incorporated (ACEI), decided to help contribute to this grant. They were also moved and inspired by this grant and wanted to help kickstart this project. We are blown away by their donation to this unique grant and their support to the school. We are excited to see this project take off and make a difference!

Creative supports for optimal learning


Casey Trandem                                                                                                                      Custer School District - Hermosa School
The Custer School District recently implemented a five-year plan to help combat the national emergency in mental health of young individuals. Data reflects that Custer students mirror the national trends with increased rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, and suicidality. With a vision to form a united force of support by creating a safe environment using neuroscience and trauma-informed practices, a spotlight has been put on prevention and identification.
Casey Trandem developed an idea to incorporate a trained canine to act as a therapy dog for the Hermosa School students and the Custer School District students. There are numerous activity, socio-emotional/mental, and cognitive benefits that result from working with a therapy dog. Additionally, there are also social and academic benefits a therapy dog can provide. 
From Casey:
"Dog therapy complements current practices to support mental health and provides a platform for a noninvasive approach to make a positive impact on a greater audience. Through improving the culture and feeling of safety, students are in a better place to learn and cope with difficult situations. As reported by a child mental health facility, 'Dog therapy led to reduced emotional and behavioral outbursts, improved socialization, and the overall atmosphere...'
Dog therapy naturally lends itself to supporting mental health but also has academic benefits that aren’t found elsewhere. With a judgment-free audience, dog therapy is appropriate and motivating for all ages and sizes (from whole classes, individual therapies, special education groups, children in emotional distress, libraries, etc.) The benefits are greatly compounded when bringing animal therapy into multigenerational relationships between children and elderly."
Canines can impact students and even teachers in many ways but also can simply provide individuals with a positive mood and anti-stress effects on the body. Animal therapy is being implemented throughout schools, offices, and medical facilities, and is becoming a more common practice. We look forward to hearing and seeing the benefits from a therapy dog within this school district! 🐕