About 300 people were in attendance as the Foundation for Saline Area Schools “launched” its 2015-16 strategic grant campaign Tuesday in the Commons at Saline High School. There were many storylines pulsing through the 3 ½ hour event that began with dinner, continued with stories from teachers and students and concluded with performances from many talented Saline alumni, including world-renowned Scottish fiddler Bonnie Rideout.
Of course, the foundation also sought donations. This year, the foundation is raising $50,000 in support new project/problem-based learning initiatives at Heritage Elementary School. Project Launch will engage students in projects spanning multiple curricular areas, including language arts, social studies, music and art. The goal is more “powerful and connected learning” and an emphasis on college/career readiness skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking and self-direction. One piece of the initiative is the introduction of the Project Lead the Way Program, which consists of education modules that require students to apply scientific knowledge to engineer products that solve real-world needs.
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Steve Laatsch, the school district’s assistant superintendent of instructional services, said it’s the district’s goal to promote engineering at the elementary and middle school level. The district hopes increased exposure in early grades will result in more students taking Project Lead the Way Courses in high school, and more students pursuing engineering careers when they graduate.
“Fourth and fifth grade is a perfect level to introduce project-based learning,” assistant Superintendent Steve Laatsch said. “Further, Project Lead the Way has introduced a new elementary curriculum that ties in perfectly with this project-based learning direction. There are many Heritage teachers who expressed interest in PLTW training this summer. The pieces came together to make it a perfect setting to do this work.”
For the last five years the Foundation for Saline Area Schools has helped fund major, well-publicized educational initiatives at Saline Area Schools – everything from STEM curriculum to Next Generation Classrooms, to world languages. Long before the foundation began the high-profile strategic grant campaigns, the foundation funded mini-grants for teachers and educational programs.
Tuesday, teachers and students shared stories the way those foundation-funded programs have impacted their classrooms.
Connor Rentschler, a freshman with special educational needs, described the way technology helps him learn.
“Here’s how technology helps me every day. Number one, I check my homework and share it with my classmates and teachers every day. Number two, I add homework assignments to my Google calendar to stay organized. Number three, I read text books on my laptop,” he said.
Connor’s mother Lisa said the technology helps.
“It makes him more aware of what he’s responsible for. Also, he has physical difficulty with writing. But he can type fast. So this helps expand the ideas he has in English or social studies,” Rentschler said.
She said Connor shares his projects and documents on Google Drive with teachers and with students he collaborates with.
Becky Bendes and Kirsten Reece, who teach a next-generation fifth grade class at Heritage Elementary School. Their first two units in fifth grade were on infection and detection. After speaking about their units, their students visited the 300 guests at their tables. The students, armed with ultra violet lights and mini-iPads, to explain how germs spread, how the body defends itself from infectious disease, and how disease spreads through a group of people. Some presentations included pictures, videos and demonstrations.
Laura Odom, who teaches social studies at Saline Middle School, received foundation funds for a project-based learning module and Chromebooks. She said she was grateful for the foundation’s support of Saline’s teachers and students.
“My most recent grant, Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century Learner, has cultivated a dynamic learning experience for my students,” Odom said.
She said students are eager to participate in project-based learning, and often ask for more work after meeting requirements.
“The Chromebooks provided by the foundation help make project-based learning a reality in our classroom. They provide the right resources and environment,” Odom said. “Our students are on fire. These kids truly amaze me.”
Much of the early evening activities were about technology. The event concluded with an event that tapped into Saline’s rich performing arts tradition. The Homegrown Concert featured performances by Courtney Dana-Lambert (SHS Class of 2000); Abby Dotz (SHS Class of 2010); Claire Douthat-Barnich (SHS Class of 2003); Mary Johnson (SHS Class of 2010); Riley McCune (SHS Class of 2013) and Angels on Call; Jane Arvidson-Panikkar (Class of 1999); Sandra Periord (SHS Class of 2010); Susannah Stempky-Golden (SHS Class of 2000) and Bonnie Rideout,(SHS Class of 1981).
These are exciting times for a foundation that has become increasingly sophisticated. Last year, the foundation contributed $125,000 to Saline Area Schools. Cheryl Hoeft, president of the foundation’s board, explained the foundation has around $550,000 in assets. Successful as the foundation has been, its leadership has plans to take things to the next level. Board member Katie Murphy announced the foundation is looking for a part-time executive director. The position is posted on the school district’s website.
“The foundation has continued to grow immensely over the past several years, allowing us to invest more in our teachers, our schools and our community,” Murphy said. “In order to continue this growth in the future the foundation is seeking an executive director to lead the organization forward.”
“We’ve gone about as far as we can go with basically a volunteer operation,” Hoeft said. “Volunteers will always be a big part of the foundation, but we need an executive director to take things to the next level.”
According to the job posting, there will also be part-time administrative help for the executive director.
The executive director will report to the foundation’s board. Murphy said the foundation hopes to have an executive director in place by January.