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Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools Is ‘Cookin’ Up Something New in 2021

Students engaged in the Optometric Specialty Group Grant: Biotechnology and the Genome Generation, work funded by a grant from the Foundation for WHPS. Courtesy photo

The Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools is unable to hold its traditional West Hartford’s Cookin’ event in 2021, but has come up with alternatives to both fund raising and its grant cycle.

By Ronni Newton

There have been so many changes to education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past year, and in West Hartford there has been an unfortunate disruption in the type of interactive, hands-on, in-person programming that the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools has supported through grants.

In addition, the Foundation’s major fundraiser – West Hartford’s Cookin’ – had to be canceled last March and was canceled again in 2021.

Like many organizations, the Foundation has found a way to pivot, allowing teachers to defer previously-awarded grants while at the same time launching a new initiative to provide grants to support programs that can safely happen this year and are needed more than ever.

“We recognized the unique challenges facing our educators during this unprecedented time and wanted to provide a new opportunity for them to apply for immediate funding for programming and new resources for teaching in both the hybrid and remote learning models,” said Foundation Co-President Lauren Fine.

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.

Another 28 grants, totaling $32,837, were awarded on Feb. 1, for teachers to use this academic year, said Deena Samberg-Shefsky, a Foundation board member.

Bugbee Elementary School Principal Kelly Brouse said staff at the school is very grateful to receive grants that can be used under current conditions. The new grant cycle “provided my staff the opportunity to think out of the box and look for some fun and rigor to enhance the coming spring for our kids,” she said. “Many reflected on our social-emotional learning goals this year and developed inspiring ideas of how to enhance our focus on self-regulation, identity, and diversity. It was just the ticket to get us out of the pandemic rut.”

To support the grants, and in the absence of the Foundation’s signature West Hartford’s Cookin’ event the Foundation is launching “West Hartford’s Cookin’ Up Something New” this March.

Funds raised through the initiative will be used to directly fund the new grant cycle, as well as the $20,000 that was provided to the Department of Equity Advancement in the fall.

Those who contribute $100 or more to the fundraiser will be provided with a specially-curated gift bag that will include boxes of Bridgewater chocolates as well as other items to support the traditional “cooking” theme – perhaps recipes and gift cards to local restaurants, Samberg-Shefsky, co-chair of the Foundation’s special events committee, said. Jerel Rocktaschel is chair of the West Hartford’s Cookin’ event.

“The bag is a thank you for contributing to the campaign,” said Samberg-Shefsky. “We wanted to be able to give our donors something,” she said, but unfortunately it can’t be the same experience as they would get at West Hartford’s Cookin’ when they would be able to mingle with others and enjoy food and drink.

In the 23 years since its founding, the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools has provided more than $1.8 million in grants to teachers in all grades across the district – from Pre-K through grade 12 as well as post-secondary programs. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.

For more information about West Hartford’s Cookin’ Up Something New, visit the website or call 860-561-8755.

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