Dream Big: Teachers wishes granted by education foundations

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Christmas has come early for many Hancock County teachers, whose wishes have been granted by local education foundations.

Last week, fifth-grade teacher Abby Kern marveled at the new dry-erase desk that was delivered to her classroom at McCordsville Elementary School.

She’s since been using the U-shaped desk to allow students to sketch out math problems and other work in a small group setting, writing on the table as they learn.

Hers was among 102 teacher wishes granted by the Mt. Vernon Education Foundation earlier this year.

On Friday, Dec. 2, the New Palestine Education Foundation announced it will fund nearly $15,000 mini-grants to fulfill 43 teachers’ requests this school year.

At its September gala, the Greenfield Central Education Foundation announced it would be granting $30,000 to fulfill teachers’ wishes this year.

The Eastern Hancock Education Foundation has also been granting wishes, typically granting between $15,000 to $20,000 to fulfill teachers’ requests each year. At the height of COVID, the foundation awarded $27,000 for the 2020-21 school year.

It’s no secret that teachers often reach deep into their own pockets to purchase supplies for their classrooms.

According to a 2015 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of public school teachers reported spending their own money on classroom supplies, spending an average of $478 each.

To ease that burden, education foundations throughout the county have stepped up to lighten the load.

While the Mt. Vernon foundation has long supported educators, officially granting “teacher wishes” was a first this year.

All 265 teachers in the district were invited to submit their wishes, which ranged from welding and weightlifting equipment to styluses and STEM lab supplies. A book binder, headphones, microscopes and sensory items for students with special needs also made the list.

“There were a couple of wishes that were not granted only because they were either being purchased by the district or didn’t align with our curriculum, but everything else was funded 100 percent,” said Mt. Vernon’s foundation president, Renee Oldham.

Teachers’ wishes were promoted on the foundation’s website in the weeks leading up the spring gala, during which time supporters could donate money toward fulfilling them. Donations also flooded in during the gala, totalling $30,000 by the end of the night.

The Greenfield Central foundation had similar success at their latest gala in September, when $30,000 was raised for teacher grants.

Foundation president Ginny Brown said the money was raised through the Wish Upon a Star campaign, which enables teachers to share their wishes with those attending the gala.

All staff members are allowed to submit wishes, including secretaries and bus drivers.

Brown said 120 requests were fulfilled this year, a near record since the wish-making campaign was established in 2012.

Last year, a record $35,000 was raised to cover all the requests.

“The last two years, we’ve been happy to say that all the wishes have been 100 percent granted,” said Brown, who embraces the opportunity to support local teachers.

“What I love is that teachers are not dipping into their own pocket because that’s what they’d otherwise have to do,” said Brown, who enjoys visiting classrooms and snapping pictures of teachers’ wishes being put to use.

Donors often receive thank you notes from teachers and students.

“Some have told me they can’t bear to throw those letters away because they’re just so darling,” said Brown.

Teachers are equally grateful for the support from the Eastern Hancock Education Foundation, which invites teachers to submit requests during two grant cycles, each spring and fall.

“We don’t limit them to just one. If a teacher has ideas for three grants, they can submit all three for review,” said the foundation’s president, Johnna Bridges.

“The foundation reviews each grant to ensure it aligns with our mission and also has support of school administration, and we’ll then approve grants that meet all criteria,” she said.

Teachers and staff members can submit a grant proposal in any dollar amount and can also submit grant proposals as a group in cases where a certain wish could impact an entire school or grade level.

Recent grant requests have ranged from a coffee cart for the essential skills class to speakers and saxophones for the band. Others have requested piano lab equipment, visiting author workshops, robotics competition items, classroom libraries, specific tools for science experiments, and classroom items to create reading nooks, STEM sections and group work spaces.

“It has been a joy to watch the grants evolve over the years,” Bridges said.

The foundation raises money through a number of fundraisers including a trivia night, golf outing, silent auction and cinnamon roll sale.

For the next few years, the foundation will also offers “Raising Royals” grants to teachers thanks to a donation from the estate of Jonathan Cain, a longtime community servant and school supporter.

Most of the funds raised for teachers in the Southern Hancock County Community School Corp. are raised at the New Palestine Education Foundation’s spring gala.

“Grant applications are sought early in the school year and awarded late in the first semester, with the maximum grant of $500 each,” said Mark Kern, a longtime foundation board member.

Founded in 2010, the foundation has been awarding teacher grants for the past 10 years. Roughly $10,000 was granted in 2020 and again in 2021, but the amount awarded jumped to $15,000 this year. The foundation also purchased robotics equipment this year with funds given in memory of former student Brody Stephens.

Speaking on behalf of all teachers, Kern praised the generosity of community supporters who help make funding teachers’ wishes possible.

“Teachers like myself are always coming up with new ways for students to learn and new materials we feel would be beneficial, so this is a great way for teachers to get items for their classrooms that they wouldn’t normally be able to purchase,” she said.

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