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Chris Bily and his Charleston Middle School social studies class receive their Grants in Place award poster from Eastern Illinois University Men's Basketball players.

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Community Recognition for Community-Minded Projects

Charleston, Illinois

September 14, 2015

The Rural Schools Collaborative, with the help of the Charleston (IL) Middle School and Eastern Illinois University Men’s Basketball program, celebrated its very first Grants in Place recipient recognition program on Friday, September 11th in the school’s gymnasium. Grant recipients Chris Bily and Kim Sherwood described their grant projects, and EIU head coach Jay Spoonhour talked to the student body about the joys of learning and their good fortune to have teachers who “went the extra mile” for them.


Coach Jay Spoonhour, above, addresses Charleston Middle School students.

EIU players Trae Anderson, Cornell Johnston, Luke Norman, Luke Piotrowski, Patrick Muldoon, and Marshawn Blackmon visited with students and presented the honored teachers and their classes with award posters. Building partnerships between higher education and local schools is at the core of the Rural Schools Collaborative mission, and we truly appreciated the players’ willingness to get up early on a Friday morning to participate in the event. Needless to say, when the 6’11” Piotrowski entered the gym, it certainly got everyone’s attention.

Charleston had three teachers selected for Grants in Place awards, which attracted 70 applicants from 11 states. Bily, an 8th grade social studies teacher, will work with his students to plan and host an event that will honor local war veterans on Veteran’s Day. Sherwood, who teaches 7th grade science, received a grant to support student site analysis and a native re-planting at the Middle School. Jessica Cleeton, a high school math teacher, was unable to attend the presentation, but she was awarded a grant to support a student mathematics-mentoring program.


Kim Sherwood's science class accepts their award poster from EIU players.

The grants to Charleston teachers were made possible in part by donations from local donors that were made in honor of the Eastern Illinois University Men’s Basketball program—a perfect partner, considering that the team graduated five senior team members last spring. These kinds of charitable partnerships are a great example of how to “leverage” resources for local rural communities.

The Charleston event came on the heels of two “community conversations” on philanthropy, public education, and community development, which were held in Effingham, IL on Thursday, the 10th. Thirty-three people from more than a dozen communities attended these two events, which were hosted by the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation. We want to offer a special thanks to SICF President, Joedy Hightower, and her colleagues for making these great discussions possible. Convening advocates for purposeful discussions is certainly one of our primary objectives.

The Rural Schools Collaborative was organized in 2014 and launched in April 2015. Its partners include Illinois organizations Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools, Galesburg Community Foundation, and the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation. RSC believes that community-based instruction, thoughtful collaboration, and targeted philanthropy strengthen the fabric of rural places. The organization is currently engaged in nine states with an administrative office in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Stay tuned as we will continue to share the stories of teachers, students, and community-centered school projects in the months ahead.

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