It’s not every day you enter an elementary or middle school classroom and find students on the edge of their seats, much less tentatively reaching out to feel the fine bristles of a rather large tarantula. But on a fall afternoon at Studebaker Elementary, Insect Zoo—an event put on by Griffin Academy, a new program made possible with a gift from Nationwide Insurance to distinctlyDrake—put these Des Moines youths in touch with their wild side.

Students at both Studebaker Elementary and McCombs Middle School are getting their hands on multilegged creatures, screen printing shirts, participating in an agriculture lab, taking nature walks, and storyboarding with a local artist. The ultimate goal for Griffin Academy—named for a symbol in the popular Harry Potter series that stands for strength and honor—is to help interested students advance their skills in fine arts, science, technology, engineering, and math.

The $250,000 grant from Nationwide allows more than 100 students to attend the weekly labs and activities and has also provided 2,000 popular books to check out.

Faculty, staff, and students in the School of Education; Drake alumni; community organizations and companies; and the Des Moines Public Schools have teamed up with Nationwide to create a unique constellation of partners supporting the Griffin Academy.

One of the uncommon aspects of the grant and project is how it came to fruition. When approached by Drake, Nationwide pulled together a group of its employees—all Drake alumni ranging from senior executives to junior employees—to decide how a gift to the University should be allocated.

“Their process really shows how transformational philanthropy is a part of Nationwide’s culture,” says Paul Secord, director of development at Drake. “We hope this is the beginning of something larger at Drake—that gifts to the University can also support the community and help educate the future workforce.”

School of Education students work alongside faculty to help create the curriculum and serve as mentors to participants. While inspiring young students who might not otherwise have access to such an engaging learning environment, the academy is also enabling aspiring teachers to gain new skills.

“I love working as part of Griffin Academy,” says Jordan Stahlecker, a graduate student pursuing her Master of Science in Elementary Education. “I have learned so much, and I’m gaining tools that I will be able to use someday in my own classroom. Plus, it’s great to see how excited the students get about the different topics.”

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Last Modified: 07/12/2013 09:15