Hancock Whitney, Gulf Coast Community Foundation announce 2021 Leo Seal Grant winners

Some of South Mississippi’s most outstanding teachers have made the grade as the 2021 Leo W. Seal Innovative Teacher Grant recipients. The grants, funded by Hancock Whitney and administered by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, laud and encourage educational excellence by underwriting original classroom teaching projects developed by teachers in the eight Mississippi counties the bank serves.

This year’s winners of one-time Seal grants of up to $2,000 to activate creative teaching proposals are Relda Adorno of Hancock High School in Kiln; Alexandra Bosarge of Vancleave Middle School; Tracy Bowman of Petal Elementary School; Jo Comans of Central Elementary School in Pascagoula; Heidi Dedeaux of Gulfport High School; Elizabeth Dingman of West Harrison High School in Gulfport; Jennifer Parker of Vancleave High School; Amanda Lovelace Pidgeon of Hancock High School; Sarah Skupien of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Hattiesburg; Andria A. Wade of Thames Elementary School in Hattiesburg; and Deborah L. Worrel of St. Patrick Catholic High School in Biloxi.

“Hancock Whitney was founded to help people achieve their dreams. Our associates work every day to create opportunities for people and the communities we serve. The Leo Seal grants honor, recognize, and reward dedicated teachers who are creating educational opportunities to put young people on the paths to making their dreams real,” said Hancock Whitney Mississippi President Emory Mayfield. “These teachers have worked tirelessly to implement innovative educational ideas—especially amid disruptions the pandemic has imposed on schools—and have remained passionate about preparing students to succeed in a changing world.”

More about the Seal Grants

Established in 1994 and first awarded in 1996, the Seal grants also commemorate the leadership of Leo W. Seal, Sr. — the bank’s president from 1932 until his death in 1963 — and his son, the late Leo W. Seal, Jr., the company’s chief executive for 45 years. Both men facilitated countless economic and educational advancements across the region.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation manages the endowment as a permanent fund of the GCCF’s Pat Santucci Friends of Public Education program and coordinates the selection of winners by an independent committee of business, community, and educational representatives not affiliated with Hancock Whitney.

Applying for the Seal Grants

Certified K-12 teachers at public and private schools in Forrest, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Madison, and Pearl River counties are eligible to apply for the Seal grants. To apply, teachers complete online letters of intent detailing how their proposed projects enhance students’ learning experiences while supporting state educational requirements. GCCF reviews applications and invites selected teachers to submit full grant proposals.

Applications for the 2022 Leo W. Seal Innovative Teacher Grants are available at https://www.mgccf.org/grant-opportunities/. The deadline to submit letters of intent for the 2022 grants is November 12, 2021.

Top Teachers, Winning Projects

Relda Adorno—Hancock High School. “The General Store” provides a place where students with significant cognitive disabilities can apply and generalize skills learned across their curriculum while developing self-determination skills. The students practice applying reading, math, language, and job skills found in everyday life.

Alexandra Bosarge—Vancleave Middle School. Many students at Vancleave Middle School do not have internet access and are not as familiar with computing skills as other students their ages. “WALL-E World” engages programmable robots to teach computer coding to children in the rural community.

Tracy Bowman—Petal Elementary School. “Rat-a-Tat-Ring-a-Ling” integrates music and science as students investigate the relationship between the rate of vibrating objects and sound pitch. As they explore these concepts, students learn the behavior of sound while learning to play multiple instruments. 

Jo Comans—Central Elementary School. Students learn how to grow plants able to self-sustain without many outside resources as they participate in “Sowing Seeds:  Learning to Sustain Our Future.” Applying what they learn to the hands-on design, construction, and maintenance of a sustainable garden reinforces science, math, social studies, and language curriculums.

Heidi Dedeaux—Gulfport High School. An innovative “Urban Farm to Table” initiative brings health, cooking, science, gardening, and education together for individual and greater good. The program enhances student and community health and helps students cultivate additional skills to advance in culinary careers.

Elizabeth Dingman—West Harrison High School. Students taking part in “Golden Bread” design, construct, and analyze genetically engineered yeast to contain a b-carotene gene converted into vitamin A, which supports the immune system and vision. Using engineering techniques to tackle real-world problems such as famine, students create enriched bread from the modified yeast.

Jennifer Parker—Vancleave High School. The artist Van Gogh said, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” “Courage to Succeed” helps instill in insecure students the self-confidence and courage to do their best to succeed in all areas of their lives.

Amanda Lovelace Pidgeon—Hancock High School. “Then, Now, and Forever:  Making Literacy Connections across Literary Generations” bridges the gap between the literature students want to read and the literature they have to read. The program challenges students to find common themes in young adult literature and selections traditionally taught in schools.

Sarah Skupien—Sacred Heart Catholic School. Physics makes the world go around, yet students may lose interest without relevant, real-life examples. In “Physics at the Park,” devices called Calculator Based Laboratories (CBLs) turn local playgrounds into outdoor physics classrooms where students can conduct experiments while having fun.

Andria A. Wade—Thames Elementary School. “Thames Tiger TEAMS (Teaching Exceptional Students Advanced Meaningful Skills)” helps create a classroom where students with exceptional needs can learn not only academics but also independent living skills that make a difference in their lives.

Deborah L. Worrel—St. Patrick Catholic High School. Supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) activities, “Eyes in the Sky” provides an aerial means of determining landscape data. Qualitatively, drones show a visual perspective of landscape, meteorology, and effects of storms. Quantitatively, the project enhances data collection and computer technology.

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