Lincoln Elementary teachers Maria Concepcion Ruiz-Haneberg and Julie Byrnes received funding for their passion project as IEA Score Grant recipients. | Provided by Byrnes and Ruiz-Haneberg.

Two teachers will be bringing new reading material to Oak Park’s Lincoln School as recipients of a $1,000 grant to grow community involvement. The teachers hope to help heal issues that might have stemmed from the pandemic at the District 97 elementary school at 1111 S. Grove Ave. 

The Score Grant, provided by The Illinois Education Association Foundation, was awarded to Julie Byrnes and Maria Concepcion Ruiz-Haneberg. They created a project helping implement new reading materials relating to developing skills through books regarding social justice and social emotions.

Byrnes, a fifth-grade reading teacher, and Ruiz-Haneberg, who serves as a K-5 world language Spanish teacher, worked together to create a project that would involve the community, applying for the grant in January. The grant is awarded to educators who create service projects benefiting students, their families, and their communities. They were awarded the grant before Spring Break. 

After brainstorming, the teachers decided to tackle the increasing need for more social emotional and social justice learning, especially following the tough recent years educators and students have faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“One of the main reasons [for choosing this topic] was due to COVID and all the things the students missed, social and emotional speaking. We needed to focus on that. They need that,” Ruiz-Haneberg said. “They were out of school for two years, not being able to have a normal school experience, they need a lot of support. Besides the academic part, the social and emotional [part] is very much needed.” 

Currently, the teachers are working with faculty and their community, along with the Oak Park Public Library, to narrow down book titles. 

“When teachers know we are working all together as a community to bring in relevant books and equip teachers in their classrooms, that is exciting and the more we can have them a part of that journey, it is going to make it a well-done project at the end,” Byrnes said. 

Byrnes and Ruiz-Haneberg will bring in age and grade-appropriate books from a diverse range of topics along with a diverse group of authors. They are also trying to bring in academic resources for teachers to learn how to bring up topics. 

Byrnes said they are looking into potential book sets, allowing students to bring books home to read with family, creating a full circle for learning opportunities for students. 

The duo hopes to continue to collect feedback from the community and are open to suggestions as they work to solidify a list by the end of this school year with hopes of being able to begin distributing the materials to teachers for the 2023-24 school year. 

To be a part of the conversation, Byrnes and Ruiz-Haneberg encourage community members to reach them at and with suggestions for reading material to include in their project. 

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