Park City Education Foundation grants deliver the goods
Annual effort helps teachers create dozens of programs
December 13, 2016
Each year, the Park City Education Foundation doles out $55,000 in teacher grants, money that goes directly into classrooms to fund unique and innovative projects the school district can't squeeze into its budget.
This year, however, the PCEF was the beneficiary of a $20,000 gift from an anonymous donor, allowing the foundation to hand out more teacher grants than usual. The impact, said Sara Hutchinson, PCEF program manager, will be felt in classrooms throughout the district, where dozens of teachers vie for grants each year.
"That really made a difference," she said. "We had probably $200,000 worth of (requests), so it was great to be able to fund more programs. …This list is longer than it's been in the past."
Hutchinson, who said helping a committee sort through the grant requests is a highlight of her year, said several themes shone through this year. There were multiple requests for programs focused on mental health, for instance, such as one at Trailside Elementary School that will allow students to partake in mindfulness exercises for 30 minutes at the start of each day.
"I think (mental health) is on people's minds," she said.
Another popular request was for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, since more teachers continue to receive endorsements in that area, Hutchinson said. Cathy Robinson, a first-grade dual-language immersion teacher at Trailside, received a grant for microscopes to teach first-graders science through the lens of the French language.
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At Park City High School, teacher Jordan Ulrich applied for a grant to allow the engineering club and an engineering class to build vertical gardens, which will be placed throughout the school and grow herbs. One of the most unique grant requests came from McPolin Elementary School, where a program will combine music and coding. Students will use computer programming to connect traditional folk music to modern compositions.
Hutchinson said it's rare for two programs to be combined that way into one grant, and she's excited to see the results.
"We've never seen anything like that," she said. "This school district is amazing. It just has so many opportunities."
Some of the grants may even eventually be expanded into school-wide or district-wide programs. Hutchinson said a grant at Ecker Hill Middle School that will provide the materials for a "makerspace," an area for students to work on science projects and collaborate with other students. She speculated that a grant like that could catch the district's attention as it designs a high school expansion and potentially a new elementary-level building.
Seeing programs flourish, first in one classroom, then in a whole school or throughout the district, is one of the major rewards the PCEF receives, Hutchinson said. She's eager to see where this batch of grants ends up.
"It reminds us that the work that we're doing is very important," she said. "We love to see the idea planted in the classroom, then move through the pipeline. We're so fortunate to be in a district where the generosity of the donors enables these programs to happen. This is the kind of discretionary budget that just doesn't exist in Utah because the legislative funding."