Lowell Education Foundation Supports Classroom Innovation

The Lowell Education Foundation (LEF) was established in 1995 when a group of parents and community members sought a way to support the school system.  After working with the School Board and Lowell Area Schools (LAS) administration LEF was formed. Since then it has been awarding grants to teachers to further their efforts to educate students at all levels of education within the district.  

Involvement with the Board

Current LEF Board President Heather Cooper is a 4th generation Red Arrow who is married to a former LAS teacher who now works for Kent ISD as an Early Literacy Coach.  Cooper’s daughter is a Lowell High School graduate in 2019 and her son is currently a LHS sophomore.  

After her youngest was through elementary school and her volunteer time in classrooms dwindled, Cooper decided to join the LEF board as a means to help out.  At the time the group was in transition as some key members would be leaving due to term limitations. After being on the board for a few months Cooper was asked to take on the President position.  Cooper has been in the President role on the board since early 2017. She started out joining the board as a volunteer looking to learn more about non-profit organizations. She also wanted to be part of making a difference in classrooms in Lowell.  “I had been a classroom volunteer for several years. I saw firsthand how our teachers poured their hearts, souls, and pocketbooks into their students. I knew there had to be more help out there to fund their endeavors and creative ideas.” she says. She first learned of LEF after helping classroom teachers who had pursued grants.  She later became donor.  

Raising and Dispersing Funds

Money which is used for grants is raised by getting the word out.  The foundation keeps in touch with previous donors, posts on social media, and rely on those who know about the efforts of the organization to secure funding.  Cooper says, “We have found people in the Lowell community to have a strong interest in supporting our teachers and students, and they are very generous with their donations.”  Those who are interested in donating to LEF can visit their website and contribute one time or set up a monthly automatic payment.  There is also an option to dedicate a donation in memory of someone or to honor someone such as a favorite teacher.  Donations can also be made via the LEF Facebook page.  

Cherry Creek Elementary students receive creative seating to use during reading and writing workshop.

Anywhere from 15-25 grants are awarded, with a maximum of $1,000 for each applicant, depending upon the number of applications received and current funds available.  Typically $20,000 – $25,000 is awarded each. Applications are accepted when the school year begins and money is dispersed in mid-October. This allows teachers to seek funding as they are planning for their school year.  LEF is looking at giving grants later in the school year based on some feedback from teachers. Should the process go well the board will consider taking applications two times a year.  

Awarding Innovation

When applications are being reviewed, innovation is a key component in receiving an award with Cooper commenting, “We want to fund projects that go above and beyond customary classroom practices.”  It is common for teachers to spend time outside of the school year learning about new, researched backed methods for teaching kids. Cooper says many of the ways which are found come with a price tag.  The LEF Board hopes to be able to help teachers when they find new ways to engage students while they learn. “If they’re willing to put in the time and effort to bring an innovative project to their students, we don’t want them to be dissuaded by costs. We want to fund that project.” Cooper says of the role LEF plays.  

Applications are first reviewed privately by board members following rules to ensure evaluations are consistent when looking at each submission.  During a meeting, which can take up to three hours, the board then discusses, debates, and makes decisions on whether to fully fund, partially fund, or not fund a grant application.  

The teacher applicant provides a clear budget on how money will be spent, provides feedback to the LEF board, and details how the project meets the goals of classroom curriculum.  Once the board determines that an applicant has presented an innovated project which will further the learning process, a grant is awarded.

Students at Cherry Creek Receive Creative Seating

Fourth grade teacher Katelynd Pulver applied for a grant so her students at Cherry Creek Elementary (CCE) could have creative seating options during their reading and writing workshop time.  A grant totalling $750 was received and used to purchase 6 floor chairs, a couch and two lap desks.

“Through the workshop model, we are seeing a wonderful increase in the amount of time students spend reading and writing.” comments Pulver.  She she also says while students are capable of working for 20 minutes and beyond reading and writing, often remaining comfortable during this time becomes an issue.  

By the end of the school year Pulver’s students are expected to read for 40 minutes at a time.  “Many will not meet this goal if they are moving around to find a comfortable spot instead of working on increasing their stamina.” she comments citing the need for other different options.  These students are dedicated readers and writers with a teacher who feels they deserve seating options to support their efforts, especially as extending endurance increases throughout the year.  

Pulver is considering seeking a grant in the future for a classroom library system which would include a scanner and software to aid in tracking what books are checked out by students to read at home.  She is thankful for the availability of LEF funded grants to help add things to the classroom teachers cannot afford on their own. She feels the organization is a great local community resource with donors who come from the community as well.  After sharing the news of being able to provide some new seating options with her students’ parents, a few more lap desks were received as a donation from within her classroom!  

Become Involved

The board is always looking for more members of the community to become involved.  Currently they are seeking members to represent the Alto area as well as those who have skill sets in technology, finance, accounting, law, media communications, and more.  “We do ask anyone interested in joining our board to submit a letter of interest highlighting their skills and why they want to join the board.” remarks Cooper, adding that anyone who will be handling money must also be willing to submit to a background check.  Those who have questions or would like to become involved with LEF can send an email to [email protected].  Meetings take place the third Wednesday of each month at the LAS central office.

In a future article, to be published next week, we will take a look at three projects which were funded at Bushnell Elementary School.  

Photos courtesy of Katelynd Pulver and used with permission.

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