Funding the future at Tahoe Lake Elementary | SierraSun.com

Funding the future at Tahoe Lake Elementary

Katja Dahl
Special to the Sun

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — It is no secret that public education in California has been underfunded for many years.

At Tahoe Lake Elementary School in Tahoe City, they are filling part of that void with the support of the Excellence in Education Foundation. Over the past five years alone, the Foundation has funded over $55,389 in grants specifically at Tahoe Lake Elementary.

This popular local nonprofit raises money through programs like Skiing for Schools, Dining for Schools and Golfing for Schools, and channels the funds back into the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District via their grant-giving program.

This format allows teachers the creativity and flexibility to request funds for programs and teaching tools that are meaningful and beneficial to their specific grade level and school specific classroom needs.

According to Stephanie Foucek, principal at Tahoe Lake, “our school receives state funding for the basics, Measure A funding assists with specialized staffing such as PE, Music, and Technology teachers and supplies, (ensuring that we never have to ask parents to purchase supplies), and groups like Excellence in Education fill in the gaps and fund programs and educational enhancements that help enrich the curriculum.”

For example, in 2012, Tahoe Lake Elementary became a hands-on science-based school utilizing a standards based science curriculum. The focus was to make science relevant throughout the curriculum utilizing Lake Tahoe’s natural environment and experiential learning opportunities in order for students to become skilled and proficient problem solvers.

To aid in the development and implementation of this new focus and to ensure the future success of the curriculum, the Excellence in Education Foundation funded a $5,000 Professional Development Grant.

This grant provided the opportunity for the school to host a ‘summer institute’ and bring a team of educators and professionals from the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley to work closely with school staff to refine teaching strategies, create programs and deepen the science focus.

The results have been engaging and effective and in 2014 the California Department of Education recognized Tahoe Lake Elementary as a California Distinguished School. This award honors California’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools.

Grants from the Excellence in Education Foundation have also provided 100 percent of the school’s Spanish curriculum. It funded the Sube Language System, a comprehensive conversational Spanish learning program designed specifically for elementary school students.

Additional Spanish curriculum funding is granted annually to support the ongoing success of the program. Tahoe Lake students that are English proficient spend part of each school day immersing themselves in the Spanish language using art, music and games.

Additional grants have afforded significant enhancements to the school’s performing arts programs, reading programs and the schools continually expanding science opportunities. Reading grants have provided for targeted reading instruction so that every student, regardless of reading ability, can find engaging stories and reading materials that interest them.

In line with the school’s hands-on learning goals, grants for cross-country ski equipment, portable tetherballs, classroom carts, and instructional rugs have all been funded.

“Every year I have teachers that come to me and say, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could just do this’ and through grants from the Excellence in Education Foundation we have been able to make those ideas and dreams come true,” explains Foucek. “It’s amazing to have the support of an organization that is committed to putting all the right tools in teacher’s hands to provide the best possible education. The grant funding we receive from them follows our hands-on teaching goals and allows us to take learning far beyond the book.”

Excellence in Education’s support of local schools extends beyond the students and classrooms to district teachers when the annual Linda Brown Fellow and Star Awards recognize excellence in teaching.

Nominations are received and a selection committee picks a group of teachers and staff that go above and beyond in fulfilling their potential as educators, show exceptional merit or talent, provide truly outstanding academic programs, and are extraordinarily innovative and creative.

Four remarkable Tahoe Lake teachers have been recognized by the Foundation over just the past five years. Award recipients receive money for personal use and also money for use in their classroom.

“Tahoe Lake Elementary teachers have been great about taking advantage of the grant opportunity and creative about the types of grants they submit,” explains Laura Brown, Executive Director of the Excellence in Education Foundation. “Having them identify enriching and meaningful tools to help engage the students in learning is truly rewarding.”

Katja Dahl is an Excellence in Education board member. Visit ExInEd.org to learn more.