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Students in Deanna Baukol’s third grade Roosevelt Elementary class listen and follow along to books on iPods. Other classrooms use the new technology thanks to Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation grants, too. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Education foundation looking for support

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Working to serve all the students of Detroit Lakes Public Schools, the Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation is granting teachers’ wishes for help to enhance learning. 

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“The district libraries have seen constant cutbacks in funding for many years. This grant allowed us to move in a progressive and forward direction in the purchase of a new technology,” media specialist and teacher Kent Mollberg said of the eBooks he was able to purchase.

The purpose of the Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation, which started in 2007, is to fund grants for teachers in the district to enhance their teaching experience.

In the past, requests have come for assistance with technology, field trips, books and other materials or equipment.

“The last couple years have been technology-centric,” former foundation member Vern Schnathorst said.

For example, before the school provided iPads for teachers and students, the teachers requested a few to try out.        

The requests vary by school, grade and teacher, but all of them are to help with learning. Now the foundation board is hoping to grow their fund enough to turn it into an endowment fund and just work off the interest.

“We’re trying to get it to the next level,” foundation president Deanna Sinclair said. “We’re not even a blip on the radar for some.”

Besides Sinclair and Schnathorst, board members include Ross Gailfus, Gail Kotschevar, Phil Hansen, John Flatt, Laurie Lewandowski and Hans Gilsdorf.

The foundation has raised over $200,000 over the years, and offers a payroll deduction option for school staff members. Now they want to get the general public involved more.             

Teacher support

The foundation awards seven to 10 grants a year. In 2012, they awarded $6,800 in grants, and in 2013, it was $9,800. They have granted a total of $32,000 in four grant cycles.

“We’re hoping to increase that amount each year,” Schnathorst said.

Besides asking the public for support, the foundation has really encouraged teachers to contribute to the fund since the money is going back to them.

For quite a while, they had about a 12-14 percent faculty support, but that jumped to 58 percent in one year after an extra push for support.

“It’s good to see teachers more involved and support what’s coming back to them,” Sinclair said.

For those not in the school system though, they can give online through West Central Initiative at www.wcif.org.

Teachers have until the end of January to apply for the grants, and from there a committee made up of teachers goes through the applications and prioritizes the requests.

“They’re the ones doing the work every day,” Sinclair said is the reason for utilizing the teachers for the committee.

The principal of the school has to sign off on the requests though to solidify that it is a real need and not already funded elsewhere.

Once the grant requests are prioritized, the foundation board then grants the requests as much as they can afford that year. They can also offer to partially fund a grant request if the teacher can get funding from another source as well.

Grants in use

A few years ago, the foundation allowed for the elementary schools to purchase enough iPads for one classroom at a time, which are kept on a cart and are checked out when a teacher wants to use them.

“Administration and principals saw the value in that” and moved forward on getting entire grades equipped with iPads, Schnathorst said.

Since then, the foundation has been receiving fewer iPad requests and more types of projects.

The eBook grant Mollberg applied for and received helped purchase electronic books at the middle school.

“All students in the middle school have iPads.  Now students can use these iPads to check out and read electronic books at home, in the car on the way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, or even sitting in the deer stand on a cold fall morning,” Mollberg said.

By keeping up with changing technology, he said it’s giving students these kinds of options, and it’s a “new and creative technology to help satisfy our students who love to read.”

Another example of the foundation’s grant money working was for kindergarten teacher Diana Hedstrom at Roosevelt Elementary School.

“My kindergarten classroom has benefitted through two of the grants from the Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation,” she said. “My classroom received iPads and iPods.”

 A few years ago, she received iPads, which she uses for apps, QR codes for learning games and as part of her listening center for Daily 5.

Later, she said, she applied for a grant for the iPods so she was able to create a literacy listening center.

“I took all my books with cassette tapes and CDs and converted them with a picture icon on to the iPods,” she said. “I don’t have to spend time showing kids how to press play, stop and rewind anymore.

“The iPods were something the students knew how to use because they have them at home. The children benefitted because they could listen to fluent models.”

She said that she also added cover photos so non-readers could find the book they wanted, and children can simply tap the title and “snuggle up with the book.”

“The DL Public Education Foundation has been a great resource that teachers can use to help fund some of those projects that are not funded by district monies,” she said.          

High school science teacher Steve Fode asked for funds to purchase clickers, which students use to answer questions during class.

Rather than students having to raise their hands and be called on, every kid in the class has a clicker, answers the question and then Fode sees a tabulation of the answers immediately.

For one, this includes every kid participating, and second, it gives him immediate responses to show him if he should concentrate more on a certain topic area or not.

“All the students get to interact and get immediate feedback,” Schnathorst said.

One thing Sinclair said is important about the foundation and the grants it provides is that everyone in the district benefits from them. It’s not just benefitting athletes or those with high enough grades to earn a scholarship. Instead, it’s going to help every kid in the classroom.

“We’re filling the holes of teacher needs that the district can’t fulfill,” Schnathorst said.

For more information on the Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation, visit www.dlpef.org.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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