OVERISEL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Inside of the Early Childhood Special Education classroom at Bentheim Elementary is a wonderland of learning. Weaved into the thousands of dollars that teacher Laura Modreske spends of her own each year on the classroom is a large, colorful and inviting space for some of Hamilton’s littlest learners.

“This is their first school experience, and I want them to come in and go, ‘Wow, I really like Hamilton, I want my kids to go there,'” Modreske said. “So I try to make it family friendly and oriented and treat them the way I wanna be treated.”

Modreske has been teaching for 37 years. She fell in love with special education when she was in high school before she had any plans of college. She was volunteering at a center in Allegan and it changed her life.

“I fell in love with those kids. I fell in love with just working with them, you know. Playing with them, helping them to grow,” Modreske said. “I came home and told my mom, ‘Yeah, I decided I’m going to college. I’m gonna be a special ed teacher.”

That same level of commitment to her class and kids is present today. Just ask her principal, Jared Randall.

“If Laura asks to do something, the simple answer is yes,” Randall said. “You take her farmer work ethic and her love for kids, there’s nothing she can’t do. So my biggest job is to get out of the way.”

Last fall, the two began to talk about a space just outside of Modreske’s classroom: an outdoor setting that was being left unutilized. Her students were too young for the elementary playground and were confined to a concrete slab for most of their outdoor activities.

“It was a beautiful vision of different structures, hammocks, play area, stairs for some of her students, some safety things, some nature out there, area to play kickball,” Randall said about their conversation last fall. “It was kind of one of those true stories, like it’s hand drawn on a napkin, this was a half sheet of paper.”

Randall still has the paper, because he knew, when Modreske got her mind set on something, it was probably going to happen. Which is why as much as he was shocked, he wasn’t all too surprised to find out she had been selected as the winner of Family Fare’s One School at a Time grant.

“When Laura asked to fill out the grant, I think I was sitting at my computer answering emails. I was like, sure, take your time. Write it out. Good for you. So I was shocked and proud of Laura for actually doing the work,” Randall said. “I’m not surprised by anything Laura does these days.”

“I honestly didn’t think I would get it either,” Modreske said when she learned she’d won the monthly grant. “I was kind of shocked and then it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, now what?’ I said, ‘We’ve got to have a meeting. We’ve got to hurry up.'”

One School at a Time is a $1,000 grant given away to one West Michigan school each month which has entered and been selected as the winner. The grant is judged based on a set of criteria that includes need, creative use of the money and the school and community impact the funds will help create.

“At Family Fare, we understand that we wanna support our communities and schools and through these programs like One School at a Time. We can get their ideas, their creative ideas out and educate our students and support them as much as we can,” said Family Fare store director Michael Farrell. “It’s tough to get the support for schools, they have to buy their own product and teachers have to buy their own supplies. So we try to help as much as we can.”

Right now, Modreske is pooling her resources and reaching out to the community to help stretch the $1,000 as far as she can and not spend any more of her money. She has community members who are donating where they can and she’s hoping to fill in the gaps. Before her hand-drawn dream can come to life, the school will prioritize safety and install a fence to close in the outdoor space just off of her classroom. Their work will be immediately.

“All of my kids have some sort of balance or motor planning issues. So things that are gonna allow them to explore in that outdoor setting and exercise and work those muscles that they need to work. To develop those skills and improve them to the point that they can be independent and walk on their own. Or they can climb stairs on their own, they can get their own stuff in their locker and take it out. All of those things are gonna be able to be practiced out on that playground,” Modreske said.

Now that the check has been presented and the money has changed hands, it will be time to heed Randall’s advice and “get out of the way.” With the ball now rolling, Modreske is doing what she’s done best for nearly four decades and prioritizing a space where all learners can thrive.

“I’m just very grateful. I’m very appreciative and I’m just very thankful we got this,” Modreske said. “I’m just hoping to raise awareness in what we want to do here and develop for the kids so that we can all come together as a community and provide something safe and nurturing and outdoor friendly for our littlest learners.”

To learn more about Family Fare’s One School at a Time grant, view the applicant page at woodtv.com.