Foundation to award classroom grants

WESTFIELD – What does a sixth grade book club, elementary school fitness initiative, and a Jane Austen presentation at the High School have in common? All received grants from the Westfield Foundation for Education (WFE).
Through privately raised funds, the all-volunteer WFE provides grants to teachers, school support staff, administrators, and PTO/PTAs for classroom projects. In the coming school year, the Foundation will award up to $10,000 for school-based programs.
Applicants may submit grant proposals starting in September. Foundation President Amber Danahey hopes to see a large number of submissions.
“In this coming year we are looking for bigger and better projects and work that matters,” said Danahey. “Kids learn through hand-on action, not just studying for tests. There is so little opportunity for creativity in the classroom these days and even less funding. The Foundation provides resources to bring creative learning back to the schools. Success isn’t only a grade on a test, but also what the child learns from the experience.”
During the 2014-2015 school year, the Foundation awarded close to $5,000 in grants to 11 projects in nine of the city’s schools. One recipient was Mary Stefanik who applied on behalf of Munger Hill Elementary School PTO.
“(Our grant) was used to conduct an allergy awareness program. (Our students) are now able to recognize allergic reactions and have a greater respect for each other’s differences,” said Stefanik. “The Westfield Foundation for Education grant was very helpful to the PTO, and we will definitely be applying for funds this year.”
The Foundation is an independent nonprofit, but works closely with the school district. Both School Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Scallion and a school’s principals must approve grant proposals before the Foundation reviews them.
“Westfield Public Schools (WPS) is excited about the energy and momentum building for the Foundation’s work,” said Scallion. “The partnership is growing and representatives from all schools are needed to build the grants and awareness of the work being done.”
All disciplines will be considered for grants, including the arts, sciences, reading and writing, physical education and social competency. In particular, the Foundation will look for collaborations among classrooms or grades, with higher award amounts given to collaborative efforts.
“Grantees will be selected based on meeting criteria as depicted in the grant rubric which is currently being modified to accommodate our request for bigger and better project ideas,” said Danahey.
Education foundations are a common fundraising strategy in school districts across the state. Many formed to address budget cuts, raise funds to support creative learning experiences, and create scholarship opportunities. According to the National School Foundation Association, at least 48 Education Foundations exist in Massachusetts. Many, like Westfield, offer small- to medium-sized grants to teachers and PTO/PTAs, while others have raised millions of dollars to fund district-wide projects.
“I would be thrilled to see the foundation grow in scope and ultimately fund a major school project,” said Scallion. “To grow and grow, with the goal to enhance and support student learning. Whether the foundation supports teacher grants or a common field trip experience for every student during a particular school year, the kinds of activities that are funded through foundations truly broaden the learning of our students.”
Danahey hopes that Westfield residents will support the organization through donations, or volunteering on a committee or as a board member.
“I hope that this organization has a bright future. As of late, it has been difficult for the residents of Westfield to get excited about education,” said Danahey. “The constant battles about schools, budgets, testing – has taken away from the real purpose of education – our students and our future. I hope the residents of this city can see past the current struggles and support this cause for our students.”
The Foundation’s grant program serves the entire school district. Staff or parent groups in any of the city’s 11 public schools are welcome to apply. Grant criteria and applications are available at the Foundation’s website, www.westfieldfoundation.org. Applications are due on October 15 with applicants notified of the results on October 30.

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