Giving local schools an educational edge | SierraSun.com

Giving local schools an educational edge

Renée Shadforth
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Tahoe Truckee High School students pass in front of a display case filled with batik artwork from Carolyn Keigley's class. There are three display cases, plus one "art wall," located throughout the school that were funded through the Excellence in Education grant.
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When it comes to raising money for local schools, the Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education Foundation just reached two major milestones.First, the foundation met its long-term goal of raising $1.5 million for its endowment fund this week, a feat that was nearly 15 years in the making. Also, as of fall 2004, the foundation has given away more than $1 million to teachers who applied for Excellence in Education grants.”It’s always great to see these teachers who take the next step,” said Lisa Bagan, chair of the foundation’s allocations committee. “It’s great to see these teachers who say, ‘Gosh, what else can I do?'”Excellence in Education is a nonprofit that’s independent of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. With money raised through Dining for Schools cards, Skiing for Schools and donor-directed contributions, the foundation provides semi-annual grants to teachers who request money to enhance programs in their classrooms.Typically, the foundation will not fund salaries, consumable items, teacher conferences or field trips. The foundation will pay for the icing-on-the-cake type programs. However, some say state budget cuts in public education have left “no cake to ice,” Bagan said.This semester classrooms will get more than $51,000 from Excellence in Education. That’s a bit less than last year’s fall grant cycle, when the foundation gave away more than $64,000.

The reason for the drop? Bagan said fewer teachers applied for grants this year.”It’s probably because of the changing curriculum and state standards. They don’t have a lot of time to think about the extras [like applying for grants],” she said.Tahoe Truckee High School teacher Barbara Robertson said she applies for Excellence in Education grants most semesters, and she thinks she has been awarded every time.Robertson received a $1,200 grant this semester to buy abridged classics for her students, most of whom are English language learners who speak Spanish. The books will allow Robertson’s students to be exposed to the literature before it is presented in mainstream classes.”[Excellence in Education has] been great to me, and they’ve been great to my students,” Robertson said. “When we’re equipped with good [in the classroom], they make it excellent.”

Cultivating funds, cultivating studentsMore teachers request funding for literacy and math programs than anything else, according to Bagan. Also, it’s usually individual teachers who apply for Excellence in Education grants.Truckee Elementary teachers broke from both these norms and joined together to apply for a $5,290 grant for their Backyard Garden project.The garden, which already had the support of local businesses for its first phase, used to be an unattractive patch of dirt behind Truckee Elementary School. Students have turned it into a space adorned with pavers, planter boxes, trees and flowers.”We’ve had a lot of donations for this project, but this grant will help us continue,” said Truckee Elementary Principal Cathy Valle.The money will buy more planter boxes and a trellis that will serve as an outdoor classroom.

Teachers have used the garden to teach their students science, math and reading with a real-world application – gardening.Perhaps more importantly, Valle said, the garden gives students something to be proud of.”The kids are seeing this area that is not attractive at all and watching it turn into something that’s really beautiful,” she said.And the Backyard Garden isn’t the only thing that’s growing.With a burgeoning endowment fund and continued community support, Bagan said Excellence in Education will continue to provide program support to local schools, even when the government doesn’t deliver.”Between Excellence in Education and Measure A, I don’t think we realize how lucky we are,” Bagan said. “There are many things that wouldn’t be possible without community support.”