Amherst schools receive $10K grant from Southern Poverty Law Center 

  • Panelists speak at Fort River Elementary School in April 2019 as part of a civic literacy and organizing education program. SUBMITTED PHOTO/TIM AUSTIN

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2019 5:05:52 PM

AMHERST — Amherst Public Schools have received a $10,000 grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center to bring its civic literacy and organizing education to more classrooms in the coming school year.

The nonprofit awarded the school the money through its Teaching Tolerance program which gives out educator grants for up to $10,000 to “support projects that promote affirming school climates and educate youth to thrive in a diverse democracy,” according to the organization.

At Fort River Elementary School last school year, sixth grade teacher Tim Austin started teaching a civic literacy and organizing unit that built on the civics curriculum with $5,000 in grant funding from the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance initiative. In the upcoming school year, the unit will be taught in all sixth grade classrooms in Amherst and Pelham elementary schools and eighth grade in the Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School.

The inaugural Fort River program focused on helping students organize campaigns: supporting the Green New Deal, changing the state flag and preventing deforestation in the state, Austin said. Two “organizers in residence,” Lindsey Peterson and Stephanie Jo Kent, helped the students with their initiatives.

“We always wanted to teach the students how to take the next step and organize a campaign to make the changes they were looking for,” Austin said. “Having the resources through the grant made it possible for us to have a much bigger impact.”

Last spring, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, radio host Monte Belmonte, and youth climate leaders spoke at a youth activism panel at Fort River Elementary.

Austin applied for both the recent grant and last school year’s funding. The money will be used to train teachers on the curriculum, buy materials and pay two organizers in residence, the same ones that the district worked with last year, he said.

“The work the students did this past year at Fort River was pretty incredible,” Austin said. “I’m excited to have … other students around the school district have the same kind of opportunity that they did and to really give more students a chance to make a difference on issues they care about.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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