By Aaron Leibowitz
MELROSE (Posted Jun. 18, 2015 at 12:26 PM) – A lot of good can happen in just two years — just ask the folks at the Melrose Education Foundation, and the teachers and students who have benefited from their efforts.
The organization held a barbecue at Mount Hood Golf Club on Sunday to celebrate their second birthday.
Over the past two years, the foundation has awarded nearly 80 grants totaling $55,000, with the goal of supporting innovation and excellence in Melrose public schools.
For teachers trying to manage the constraints of the school budget and a standardized curriculum, resources and flexibility are limited. The Education Foundation helps teachers go beyond the budget and think outside the box.
“Teachers have a lot of good ideas,” said MEF board member Elizabeth Christopher. “Grants enable them to test these innovations.”
In all four of its grant cycles so far, the foundation has awarded at least one grant to each of Melrose’s public schools. During the 2014-15 school year, MEF doled out $32,000 in grants, $10,000 of which were sponsored by the city.
The application process has only become more competitive since the foundation’s first grant cycle in the fall of 2013. This past spring there were 34 applications, 22 of which were approved.
“It’s not because we have less funding — we have more,” said vice president Jen McAndrew of the need to turn down some applicants. “It’s because we have that many more applications because interest is so high.”
Ultimately, MEF allows Melrose teachers to be creative without spending out-of-pocket to do so. The budget for most public school departments closes in October, which means teachers are hard-pressed to obtain new funding later in the school year. As a registered 501c3, MEF can operate outside the district bounds and take bigger risks.
“The idea is to try something in the classroom that might work for students,” McAndrew said. “If it does, then maybe the district takes it over. That’s not always the case, and that’s okay, too.”
The grants MEF awards vary greatly in nature and scope. There have been expert-in-residence grants, such as one that brought a local author into a sixth grade classroom at Melrose Middle School for a full year to teach about writing and publishing.
There have been electronics and engineering grants, including one that allowed a Melrose High School teacher to do hands-on projects that helped students gain a concrete understanding of circuitry.
Another grant went toward funding Saturday study sessions for Melrose High School students taking Advanced Placement classes in global languages and social studies.
Partnerships with outside organizations have also made certain projects possible. In 2013, the foundation arranged for Generation Citizen to work with students at the middle and high schools to propose solutions to a real public policy issue in Melrose. At the middle school, the end result was the establishment of a student government.
“There is an unbelievable number of great ideas, and we’ve just begun to tap into them,” said grants committee co-chair Kim LaFontana. “As educators get more and more accustomed to the idea that this will be available to them, it will become part of how they think about evolving their approach in the classroom.”
Beyond the classroom, MEF has also organized forums to help parents learn about education-related topics and has sent teachers to participate in professional development programs. This past April, for example, the foundation paid for several teachers to attend a conference in Boston for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
“When teachers themselves can identify an area where they want to learn more, we love to make that happen,” McAndrew said.
During the fall grant cycle, there are no limits placed on the amount the foundation can award. In the spring, however, each grant must be worth $300 or less, and the application and review process is shorter.
MEF has three major sources of funding: the city of Melrose ($10,000 per year), local and national businesses that have included Whole Foods and Macy’s, and individual donations.
Sunday’s barbecue was one of the foundation’s three big annual fundraisers, featuring lawn games, face painting, and music by DJ Dee Kimble.
“I think what’s really fun about events like that is it recognizes that we are truly an organization built in the community,” LaFontana said. “It’s not a group of administrators making decisions in a dusty room. It’s a group of parents who care.”
It also showed the level of support Melrosians have given to the organization.
“The barbecue exemplified the support that we’ve felt over the last two years from the community at large,” Christopher said.
“People have not shied away from getting involved. The barbecue was really a celebration of that.”
If the last two years are any indication, there’s a whole lot more to come.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s only been around for two years,” McAndrew said. “People are really excited, not only about what the foundation has done, but about what we can do in the future.”
Read the article online: http://melrose.wickedlocal.com/article/20150618/NEWS/150616715/1997/NEWS