Grant helps Columbia-Burbank High School teacher kit out her classroom

A $10,000 educational grant has helped a Columbia-Burbank High School teacher beef up her students' access to 21st century technology and tackle the age-old subject of agriculture.

Holly Espinosa-Cahow has used Curriculum Agriculture Science Education in her agriculture class for three years. The program uses sensors to test plant environments for optimal growth. Her students took to CASE, but there rarely were enough sensors to go around.

And then an opportunity presented itself.

Espinosa-Cahow was nominated for an American Farmer's Grow Rural Education program grant sponsored by Monsanto early this year. She first learned of the nomination in April. Espinosa-Cahow wrote a grant proposal for additional sensors to be used in her classroom, submitted it and crossed her fingers. She was awarded $10,000 in August.

The teacher didn't know who nominated her for the grant until Friday night.

During halftime of Friday night's football game between Columbia-Burbank and Prescott high schools in Burbank, Espinosa-Cahow was presented with an oversized check and met the person who nominated her for the grant. She plans to hang the giant check in her classroom.

The real check already has been spent. Espinosa-Cahow bought additional soil sensors, manufactured by Vernier, and handheld readers used in the CASE curriculum for her students, allowing more opportunities to take their learning out of the textbook and into the field.

Espinosa-Cahow's class had nine sensor sets before she was awarded the grant. Now she has 15.

"It gets the kids more engaged in learning," said Espinosa-Cahow, a 1998 Kamiakin High School graduate. "That's what I love about it -- it keeps the kids moving."

The sensors test for pH balance, temperature, moisture, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and gas pressure, among other things.

"I had one kid excited about the periodic table," she said.

Espinosa-Cahow is in her eighth year teaching at Columbia-Burbank. This is the third year she's used the CASE curriculum in her classroom. She gained CASE certification several years ago after attending and passing the courses she'd later teach to her students.

Espinosa-Cahow's grant proposal included background research done by Columbia School District Superintendent Lou Gates.

"I think it's a very important addition to our curriculum in that what we have here is entrepreneurial, hands-on education," Gates said.

The CASE tools provide "deep learning" that challenges stereotypes too often leveled at vocational classes, he said.

"You can align this with physics classes or chemistry classes," Gates said.

Espinosa-Cahow holds two degrees from Washington State University -- a bachelor's in agricultural education and a master's in agriculture.

-- Drew Foster: 509-582-1513;