Classroom grant

Susan Eriksen-Meier presents Colter Elementary School librarian Melissa Snider with a Teton County Education Foundation Classroom Grant Recipient sign to hang in her library Monday at the school. The grant, funded by private donors, the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and the Teton County Education Foundation, will allow 1,112 students to take home a book from this year’s book fair.

Each year teachers request money for projects that fall outside the school district’s core budget.

If they’re lucky their creative ideas will be supported by the Teton County Education Foundation classroom grants program. The foundation is a nonprofit that operates as the fundraising arm of Teton County School District No. 1.

Susan Eriksen-Meier, the foundation’s executive director, said this year’s total classroom grants request is almost twice the amount given out last year. The foundation received 46 applications from teachers this fall, totaling $43,379 in requests. Roughly half the requests, a total of $19,717, will be awarded.

“The real energy about the classroom grants is that it supports teacher-initiated projects,” Eriksen-Meier said. “We want to make sure teachers know that they’re loved by the community.”

In total 24 teachers’ pitches — and countless students — won grant funding. Monetary amounts range from $100 to $7,800 for myriad projects.

Two $1,000 grants were awarded to each in-town elementary school Parent Teacher Organization to support classroom efforts to create flexible seating arrangements. The money will go to purchase bouncy balls, pedal desks, rubber bands and other tools that help squirmy elementary students stay focused in class.

Other classroom-specific projects include field trips to the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, partnering with Wyoming Stargazing, sending the Jackson Hole High School culinary team to a national competition, LEGO Robotics programming, a ukulele program in elementary schools, sustainability and the seventh-grade Medieval Faire. A list of all the projects is attached to this story online.

Opportunities for real-life learning experiences are present throughout the list of grant recipients.

“That’s how learning permeates,” Eriksen-Meier said.

The project with the largest price tag is librarians Allie Gillen and Melissa Snider’s annual “a book in every home” book fair, with a requested $7,800 to serve 1,112 Jackson and Colter elementary school students.

The project is funded through three sources and is one of the elementary school libraries’ most important schoolwide literacy events. The book fairs, held during parent-teacher conferences, encourage families to pick out books together. Private donors originally stepped in to offer $7 annually for every student at Colter to purchase a book.

But with in-town elementary schools each reconfiguring to be kindergarten through fifth grade this year, Snider and Gillen wanted to expand the funding for every student.

“What we care about is that teachers get what they need for students,” Eriksen-Meier said. “And our donors want to impact student needs as efficiently as possible.”

The role of the Education Foundation is almost certain to grow in the years to come. It started in the late 1980s as a way to manage money coming from the Snake River Sporting Club exaction parcel because the school district couldn’t receive the money directly. Over the past five years it has raised almost a million dollars to help students. In addition to the classroom grants the foundation’s 2017-18 initiatives include STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programming and a live performance fund.

Eriksen-Meier and the rest of the Education Foundation are paying close attention to school finance talks, like the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration meetings on Jan. 29 and 30 in Cheyenne. Funding public education is expected to be much discussed during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 budget session, which convenes on Feb. 12.

Eriksen-Meier said that they were watching education funding issues “very closely” but that it’s hard to raise funds at this point since they don’t know what, exactly, to be fundraising for.

“That’s the reason we’re fastidious about defining need,” she said. “Because we know the need is going to grow.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, or @JHNGschools.

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