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Making things 'click' for students in DL: The DL Public Education Foundation is providing "wish list" tools in the classroom, and it's growing

COLLIN MOTROW uses an iPad provided to his fifth-grade class by a grant provided by the Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation. Photo by Paula Quam/DL Newspapers

Rossman fifth-graders Collin Motrow and McKenzie McDougall sit in their classroom tapping away at an Apple iPad like they have been around forever.

"I'm checking my grades right now," Collin said, "Yeah, it's really cool -- you can do lots of quizzes and stuff on it," adds McKenzie without looking up.

The tech-savvy fifth-graders may know their way around an iPad, but what they probably don't know is why.

The Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation is the reason behind that classroom iPad.

The foundation, which started in 2007, bought it.

The DLPEF is not affiliated with the school district, but is a group of volunteers who raise money for it.

"Our sole purpose is to support classroom achievement," said Education Foundation founder and Board Member Dick Lundeen, "to give opportunities for kids to learn more, better, faster while they are students here in Detroit Lakes."

How it works is, if a teacher has an idea of something that would enhance classroom learning (but knows a tight school budget probably wouldn't allow for it), they can submit an application for a grant.

The foundation's board reviews the applications once a year and decides where their funds would be best spent.

The six-member board is all volunteers who give of their own time and resources to build on the endowment, which has now reached roughly $193,000 in cash and pledges.

The foundation doesn't spend the actual donations, just the interest earned on it.

"So that endowment number should continue to grow," said Vern Schnathorst, school-to-work coordinator for the High School and a foundation board member. "So that maybe someday -- who knows maybe even within a decade -- we'll be up to a million dollars, and then every year we'd have $50,000 or $60,000 that can be donated to the classrooms and the teachers for learning."

That goal can only be met through the community's interest in doing so, as all donations are from local individuals and businesses.

Over the past three years, 31 teachers have submitted grant requests for their classrooms -- 11 have received it, totaling $14,632 dollars thus far.

Collin and McKenzie's teacher, Mindy Nielsen, is one of them.

"The iPads have been great," said Nielson, "We use them every day to do all sorts of things with math, reading, state capitals ... and what's neat is we can take them on field trips, so if we go to Tamarac or something they can take pictures and add their voices to them so they can bring their fieldtrip back to the classroom."

Another grant recipient is Detroit Lakes High School teacher Steve Fode, who received a grant for a Remote Response Clicker System.

"It's loaded like PowerPoint, and I have a variety of ways I can sort of quiz students on different things," explained Fode, "and they each have a little clicker so when I ask a question, they click what they think is the right answer."

Fode says the program then gives them instant feedback on how many of the students guessed which answer.

"This tells me how many kids actually got what I was talking about -- I've never been able to do that before," said Fode, " I could see it on a written test, but now I can see immediate feedback on their understanding before it's test time."

Fode's excitement about this new teaching tool has more teachers wanting to jump on board -- which is something Education Foundation board members would love to provide.

"We're looking for our Ralph Engelstad," laughed Schnathorst, referring to the Thief River Falls native who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to UND and Thief River Schools.

Although another Engelstad is probably unrealistic, DLPEF members are trying to drum up more support for their cause as they call major supporters and encourage people to put them in their wills or offer payroll deductions -- something many school employees already do.

Lundeen, who was the Detroit Lakes School District business manager for 30 years, says administrators do their best to provide what they can to classrooms, but are continually being asked to do more with less money.

That's why he believes supporting the foundation it's so critical to local youth and the teachers who are all-too-used to not even asking for much.

"We're here to provide an alternative and some hope for that teacher," said Lundeen, "and it helps stimulate creative thoughts for teachers."

Schnathorst says all community members would benefit from donating to this cause because not only can they usually have a say in where the dollars go, but it helps the children who are what he called the "community's lifeblood."

"And if you want to sustain a vibrant, progressive community where good things are going to happen, there's no better way to do that than to educate your children," said Schnathorst, " give the opportunity to help them grow."

Meanwhile, that's exactly what Fode believes is happening in his science room as he sees the clicker helping to make lessons 'click' with his students.

"I've never felt so confident in my kids learning that I've ever been my 25 years in my school. I feel so comfortable and so good that they've got it," said Fode.

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