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South Washington County Education Foundation hands out grants

Members of the South Washington County Schools Education Foundation Board of Directors, including District 833 School Board Member Laurie Johnson, descended on East Ridge High School April 25 to award a $1,000 grant to business teacher Lynn O'Driscoll for the purchase of game development software for use in her computer programming class.

The South Washington County Schools Education Foundation is making strides to return to the force that it once was.

Over the last year, the Education Foundation has been struggling after the exit of its former Executive Director Patti Bitney Starke; however it resembled its former self last month when it awarded three grants to district schools - East Ridge High School, Cottage Grove Middle School and Bailey Elementary.

"The Education Foundation never really died, but it did have a significant setback," District 833 School Board and Education Foundation member Laurie Johnson said. "We really had more of a skeleton board, so we've decided to change our direction a bit."

The Education Foundation has decided to move forward without an executive director and expand its board of directors to better serve district schools.

"It's been sort of percolating in the background," Johnson said.

Currently the Education Foundation has about 12 members, Johnson said.

The foundation was started in 1996 as a way to "generate and disburse resources to enrich and expand programs that empower all learners with the knowledge, skills and attitudes for success," according to the Education Foundation's mission statement.

The foundation distributes grants to teachers based on a thorough application process.

"We really want to provide the extra things that are not normally budgeted," Johnson said. "We want to make teachers feel that they're not all alone.

"These grants should be a solid leg up for teachers to really try some fun things."

Innovations in the classroom

In total, there were four grant applications and the Education Foundation awarded three grants totaling $2,443. Johnson said the loss of the executive director has impacted fundraising efforts.

"People knew that it was a much smaller pot," Johnson said. "The teachers are very realistic in what they propose."

Bailey Elementary School early childhood and family education teacher Katherine Feltes received a grant of $491 that would go toward a classroom listening center.

The listening center will include a CD player, and pre-literacy materials, for students to listen to in order to better grasp the concepts of words and sounds.

The center will help develop early literacy skills.

"Giving them a good foundation is what we're shooting for," Feltes said.

Cottage Grove Middle School social studies teachers Josh Eidem and Bob Loshek received a grant of $952, which will be used to purchase MP3 players.

The MP3 players will be used to listen to pre-recorded social studies texts to help students who have challenges with higher reading levels or those students who are disengaged by social studies content.

East Ridge High School business teacher Lynn O'Driscoll received a grant of $1,000, which will go towards the purchase of game development software to be used in the school's computer programming class.

The software brings together the appeal and fun of gaming with the development of real world STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts and workplace skills.

"It will bring them into the 21st century," O'Driscoll said.

Johnson said the foundation wanted to award the grants to the three teachers because of the innovative classroom practices the grants would go towards.

"It will really help the diversity of learning styles to get to the same place," she said. "We're looking to open up people's eyes through other experiences and keep our education system moving along with good new ideas."

Johnson said it is the Education Foundation's goal to award grants in both the spring and fall, based on available funds.

To build its grant funds, Johnson said the foundation is looking to develop new fundraising opportunities.

"We want to be the charity choice for anything education related," she said. "We're trying the visibility out there. We do intend to keep going and get better at it."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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