The Teton County Education Foundation gave valley teachers a holiday gift by granting $23,099 in support of 68 projects in public school classrooms.
“It’s the community giving them a big hug right before Christmas,” Executive Director Susan Eriksen-Meier said. “They’re saying, ‘We love you, we support you, you’re doing a great job, keep going.’”
Each year teachers go through an application process. Their requests are then funneled through building principals and the administration to check for feasibility and accordance with district policies before the foundation, an independent 501(c)(3), looks at the most efficient way to use their funds.
“We never make a grant that won’t actually work,” Eriksen-Meier said. “We respond to needs that the school identifies in print.”
Grants are made possible through donations from businesses, members of the community, parent-teacher organizations and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole.
“We are so grateful for community support of our schools and the teachers who make our schools exceptional,” said Nicole Krieger, president of the Teton County Education Foundation board. “We are honored to serve as the catalyst for this community generosity, connecting specific requests from teachers with donors who are excited to be a part of an innovative and enriching program.”
Eriksen-Meier said the role of the Rendezvous PTO can’t be overemphasized. The foundation and the PTO partner at the end of every year to ensure every project request is supported.
With state education budgetary concerns on the horizon, the foundation saw a significantly large number of grant requests. Eriksen-Meier credited the Community Foundation’s donation of $5,000 with helping meet those requests.
“They made the program this year possible for us to say yes to every application,” Eriksen-Meier said. “We work very hard to fulfill all of the requests, and to this date we’ve been successful doing that.”
It all comes back to community members, who can donate to a specific teacher, school or program in addition to a general donation.
“It depends on community support,” Eriksen-Meier said. “And our community loves teachers.”
Teachers love the community back.
“I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the private donations given to classroom grants,” said Melissa Blackburn, a special education teacher at Colter Elementary School. “Each year, our team truly thinks through what is in the best interest of students and how the program or request will meet students’ needs.
Without these grants, fewer programs and field trips would be used,” she said.
The grants range from big to small at every grade level in the district. Eriksen-Meier said she likes them all too much to pick a favorite, but some jumped off the page.
Jackson Hole High School Principal Scott Crisp has been on a crusade to bring flexible learning environments to valley high schoolers. Movable work tables and work stations are replacing traditional desks, the goal being to move students from passive listeners to engaged learners. Now, he’ll be able to continue to transition entire classrooms thanks to a $4,500 grant.
Smaller grants can also make a big difference.
The foundation gave a $100 grant to Colter Elementary School teacher Annie Sampson for two Ozobot robots, which she says will help students build problem-solving skills. The small robots are programmable and help students learn to code.
If the robots are successful, Colter teachers like Sampson hope to use more of them in the future.
A slightly larger grant of $300 will go to fund a unit on analyzing owl pellets at Jackson Elementary School. Teachers said the program will help 83 students understand abstract scientific concepts.
Since its inception in 2008 the Teton County Education Foundation has funded more than $88,000 in classroom grants. The organization says that even in tough years it will keep plugging away to aid teachers.
“It’s been a challenging year for everybody in many regards,” Eriksen-Meier said. “Things are hard. It’s really nice that when we go out and ask, people definitely step up to the plate and want to support their teachers.”