TRMC Teacher Earns $10K Grant

TRMC Teacher's DonorsChoose.org Proposal Earns $10K Grant
Students investigating a crime scene.

English Teacher Pamela Santerre was looking for a way to engage her students in a developing college writing skills through a crime writing class when she submitted a proposal to a popular crowdfunding website. She did quite a bit more than earn a few backers – she landed a $10,000 grant.

The Connecticut Opportunity Project awarded the grant through the Dalio Foundation. Five $10,000 grants were given to five state teachers, chosen from hundreds of crowdfunding proposals submitted to DonorsChoose.org. The Foundation sought projects offering innovative solutions to improve outcomes and promote educational achievement.

“I didn’t even know I was in a competition,” said Santerre, a teacher at Three Rivers Middle College (TRMC). “It was completely unexpected and I am very grateful.”

TRMC is a high school for juniors and seniors located at Three Rivers Community College. Students can earn college credits concurrent with their high school requirements and classes are taught by college faculty. Old Lyme-based LEARN – the Regional Educational Service Center for southeastern Connecticut - runs the school in cooperation with Three Rivers.

Santerre teaches ENG096, a course articulated from Three Rivers Community College that prepares students to take English 101, typically the first English course that most students take in college. She found that students often took ENG096 for more than one semester before being able to handle the rigor of a college-level course.

A Thompson resident, Santerre often spent her hour-long commute to TRMC listening to true crime podcasts. Realizing that many of her students had an interest in criminal justice, she devised a course on “How to Tell a True Crime Story.” She created a proposal, seeking to purchase basic forensic science tools, nonfiction crime books about the likes of the Unabomber and mobsters, and copies of Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express.

Patrons funded the full cost of the course and Santerre and her students set to work. They read the books, created crime scenes, and wrote about their discoveries and methodologies. She also ordered Hunt a Killer, monthly crates with clues to solve hypothetical mysteries and catch killers.

“The students were totally engaged,” Santerre said. “They were telling other people how excited they were and their enthusiasm carried though the whole semester. They were engaged in the reading and writing on a deeper level than they had previously.”

The Dalio Foundation was intrigued, ultimately choosing Santerre’s project from over 400 proposals and 30 finalists. Representatives will visit the school on Thursday, Oct. 18, to meet Santerre and her classes, as well as discuss how the grant will be spent. She will also participate in a video with other grant winners and in the Dalio Foundation’s Partner Summit featuring former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King on Nov. 8.

“Pamela has worked really hard to create an engaging classroom where students work in groups and take on a specific role on projects,” said TRMC Principal Brad Columbus. “As a result, 90 percent of our students are passing English 101 while still in high school, which significantly helps to close the achievement gap.”

Santerre said she plans to share the funds with her colleagues and encourage their own creativity. She is also planning a new unit around The Hate U Give, a novel about police violence and its impact on a black community.

“I strongly believe that in order to be productive citizens, students must be engaged in the world around them and have effective conversations with people who have different perspectives and opinions,” Santerre said.

The grant will also provide a bit of fun.  The entire school will take a field trip to Mystified Escape Rooms in Mystic, putting their clue solving abilities to the test in timed contests.

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