The new Yarmouth Education Foundation awarded its first round of grants on Tuesday, funding $17,000 in special projects and programs outside the school budget.

Yarmouth Middle School got an $1,800 grant to buy 25 pairs of snowshoes for its Healthy Hearts physical education program. The Rowe School got a $6,200 grant to buy 10 iPads to be shared in a pilot program for first-graders.

And Yarmouth High School got a $3,000 grant to buy DNA testing equipment for its biology lab.

“We’re very excited,” Catie Wooten, a physical science and biology teacher, said Tuesday. “We’re hoping that by using the equipment, students will develop skills they can use in real life and an interest in biotech careers beyond high school.”

That’s exactly why the foundation funded the Yarmouth High project, one of 10 in the town’s public schools that received grants ranging from $200 to $6,200, said Bill Hagedorn, the group’s spokesman.

“It fits our mission,” Hagedorn said of the DNA equipment. “It’s innovative, it gives students real-world experience and it’s above and beyond what normally would be funded in the school budget.”

Formed last summer, the independent nonprofit organization has raised $75,000 in donations and pledges. Forty “founding donors” made contributions of $1,000 or more, and 15 to 20 others gave smaller but significant donations.

The group was started by Hagedorn and several other parents. They modeled the organization after similar foundations in a growing number of Maine school districts, including Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Portland, Lewiston, York, School Administrative District 35 (Eliot and South Berwick), Regional School Unit 21 (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel), SAD 51 (Cumberland and North Yarmouth), SAD 50 (Cushing, St. George and Thomaston) and SAD 22 (Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh).

The Yarmouth group held a Blue Jean Ball in November that attracted more than 250 people and raised more than $6,250. It’s planning to hold a fundraising tour of local kitchens in the future. The group also plans to seek corporate sponsorship and foundation support.

Other grants awarded Tuesday will fund a global cultural awareness project, a Google Ninjas training program and a Wii Fit program for special education students at Yarmouth High School; a garden project, an artist-in-residence program and an iPad program at Yarmouth Elementary School; and a book inquiry project at the elementary and middle schools.

The foundation will seek applications for and award its next round of grants in the spring, Hagedorn said.

“We’re really trying to encourage and inspire our teachers to inspire our kids,” he said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at [email protected]