Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools Awards New Grants, Implements Prior Grants

Webster Hill pre-K students participate in the "Pick and Flow... Here We Go to Auer Farm" Goldbeck Family Grant. Courtesy photo

More than $57,000 in classroom grants awarded to West Hartford Public Schools for the 2021-2022 school year.

Masks cannot hide these smiling eyes as students participated in last years Nature on Wheels program funded by the Carson Family Grant. Courtesy photo

By Ronni Newton

The Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools has navigated the changes in the school environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the ability to engage in hands-on learning experiences has returned to some extent, the organization has awarded 29 grants totaling more than $57,000 to support programs across district schools.

In addition to the new grants – awarded via a blind application process to 80% of West Hartford’s public schools – many grants awarded previously that needed to be postponed are being implemented this academic year.

“What an amazing educational experience to see the changes happening outside during the season of fall,” said Randi Leopold, a pre-K teacher at Webster Hill who was finally able to implement the first phase of the “Pick and Flow … Here We Go To Auerfarm” Goldbeck Family Grant, with had been originally awarded for the 2020-2021 academic year. “We engaged in hands-on activities utilizing all five of our senses to learn about making apple cider. We rode a bumpy hayride up to the orchard. We visited, pet, and fed the different animals in their habitats. We can’t wait to return to Auerfarm in the spring to learn about maple syrup.”

While programs from the latter part of the 2019-2020 school year and some awarded for 2020-2021 were postponed due to the pandemic, the Foundation was able to award other grants that could take place.

Students Engage in hands on science dissecting a shark. Courtesy photo

“One of the things that we did last year is we opened a COVID cycle,” said Deena Samburg-Shefsky, co-president of the Foundation. That provided teachers with enrichment programs that could take place alongside hybrid and remote learning models that were in place.

In addition, earlier in the 2020-21 academic year, the Foundation provided $20,000 of funding through 11 grants to the Department of Equity Advancement, managed by Roszena Haskins, for programming to support diversity and anti-racism education and to use in diversifying classroom and library collections.

“This year we asked for grants that wouldn’t need to be deferred,” Samberg-Shefsky said. In some ways, she said, the scope of programs has been able to be expanded and Zoom has opened up access to experiences that may not have otherwise been available. Many are focused on STEM and literacy, as well as Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

Some highlights of the grants that were just awarded for the 2021-2022 include the “Frankie & Bob Goldfarb Grant: Northeastern Jazz Exchange and Curriculum Enrichment.” As part of that program, which will be implemented later this week, students from both Hall and Conard “will participate in a multi-day exchange, residency, and curriculum share focusing on the African American art form known as Jazz Music. Students will explore the early cultural/historical influences of the American Blues, Central America, and Africa through a commissioned musical piece created for the residency. Students from Hall and Conard will benefit from the master clinician Justin DiCioccio, along with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Alexa Tarantino, Juilliard’s Tatum Greenblatt, UConn’s Sean Nelson, Juilliard’s/Columbia’s Helen Sung, and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jeff Hamilton through the residency.Students will combine to present both live- streamed and in person concerts for their greater communities.”

Through the Hawkins Family Grant, Quest students from Sedgwick, Bristow, and King Philip middle schools will be engaging in “Making Research-Based Independent Projects Come Alive with Allan Wolf, ” author of “The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic” and other works of historical fiction in verse form. David Lee from Sedgwick is the lead teacher for the program, and Lindsay Goltzman from Bristow as well as Julie O’Reilly and Adina Johnson from King Philip are also involved in the program will provide “an engaging and inspiring opportunity for students to experience research and history in a vibrant new lens for independent creative project production.”

Jessica Tamaccio from Aiken Elementary School is the lead teacher for the “Sally H. Kennedy Memorial Grant – One Book One School” which will take place later this school year. Through that program, beginning during “Read Across America Week” in early March, all students, families, and staff at Aiken will read the same book at the same time, promoting literacy and collaboration between the school and families, and addressing common core reading standards at all grade levels.

The grants are teacher-driven, Samberg-Shefsky said. “The teachers are really connecting to West Hartford’s increased focus on Social and Emotional Learning and justice and racial equity,” she said, and many of the new grants are aligned with that focus.

At Norfeldt Elementary School, Aimee Heaton is the lead teacher, and will be working with Rick Bassett and Christina Moavero on grant-supported racial justice student training.

“Using the resources ‘From Tolerance to Unity,’ this training offers students and parents the opportunity to unmask and dismantle racism,” the grant description states. “It gives students a common language to talk about the issue of racism, and empowers them to address racism in their schools and in their lives. The students learn about the history of racism, and then explore racism in our world today. They engage in creative exercises, watch video clips addressing racism in the past and in the present, and then have the opportunity to participate in empowering activities, to demonstrate their own power to dismantle racism. The ‘Farm Analogy’ is used to frame the conversation, discussing the poison of racism in our soil, and how we can get rid of the toxins together.”

The teachers have been really creative, Samberg-Shefsky said.

“We raise money for the sole purpose of enriching our children’s education,” she said. “We salute [the teachers] for the things they are looking to do. They continue to impress us.”

The Foundation itself has had to get creative with fundraising. “West Hartford’s Cookin’,” the organization’s signature fundraiser, traditionally held in March, will not happen for the third year in a row. While the event was canceled completely in 2020 just as the pandemic hit, in March 2021 they held a “West Hartford’s Cookin’ Up Something New” fundraiser. Those who contributed $100 or more to the fundraiser were provided with a specially-curated gift bag that included boxes of Bridgewater chocolates as well as other items such as gift cards to local restaurants as a nod to the Foundation’s traditional “cooking” themed event.

“It was very well-received last year,” Samberg-Shefsky said, exceeding the fundraising goal and providing a good entry point for new donors. The success of the fundraiser allowed the Foundation to offer an additional round of grants.

Samberg-Shefsky said the 2022 fundraiser will be similar to what was done in 2021, and details will be unveiled in January. There were too many variables to risk holding an in-person event, she said.

The Foundation has provided more than $1.9 million in funding since its inception in 1997. This year, 68% of the requested grant applications were able to be accepted.

A summary of all of the grants awarded by the Foundation for 2021-2022 can be found as a PDF below.

To learn more about the Foundation or to make a donation, please visit fwhps.org.

Masks cannot hide these smiling eyes as students participated in last years Nature on Wheels program funded by the Carson Family Grant. Courtesy photo

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