CAPE ELIZABETH – With the support of the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation, which recently awarded $17,500 in fall grants, school innovators are aiming to leave an everlasting impression on students and the Cape Elizabeth community by fostering new, curriculum-enriching initiatives.

“CEEF is set up to support what we think are creative, extraordinary projects that teachers bring forward,” said Ken Barber, grant co-chair for the education foundation.

The grant package, distributed by the education foundation to Cape Elizabeth schools in November, will help fund a variety of innovative projects, including $6,000 to begin constructing a new “Open Minds Studio Makerspace” at the middle school this year.

The plan is to transform the former industrial technology/woodworking classroom at the middle school into a so-called makerspace where K-12 students and teachers can engage in hands-on learning through woodworking, electronics, computer programming, multimedia creations, and more, said Cape Elizabeth Middle School Principal Mike Tracy.

According to Tracy, a makerspace is intended to provide opportunities for students and staff to invent, design and experiment with science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts. The $6,000 grant would help the school purchase start-up materials and supplies for the new space, also referred to as a STEM or STEAM lab, he said.

“It’s a place where students can go to try to solve problems and experiment, create, invent and build things,” before, during or after school, said Tracy.

In his grant application, Tracy wrote that “Makerspaces can become a hub for innovation in a school” and that they “can be utilized in every content area by students and teachers from across the district. The Open Minds Studio Makerspace will be a place where students and teachers can work in a constructivist model on open-ended problems or explore creatively in an area of their interest or passion.”

Tracy said the school received the grant Dec. 2 after giving a presentation to the education foundation about the Open Minds Studio Makerspace at its meeting in November. A meeting was held Thursday, Dec. 18, for staff to discuss the design and necessary tools for the new makerspace.

Tracy said the district is seeking additional funding, such as a $4,000 grant for 3D printers, for the project. In all, the project is estimated to cost about $32,000, according to the grant application.

In addition, the education foundation has awarded $6,500 to fund an interdisciplinary study of Cape Elizabeth’s history at the Pond Cove Elementary School; $3,000 to fund an original band composition based on the book, “The Devil and the White City,” at the high school; and $2,000 to support a five-week professional development program at Takste International School in Sikkim, India, for high school psychologist Alina Perez.

Barber said the nonprofit education foundation is always looking for “ways to support innovative techniques and creative ideas that might fall outside the normal school budgets,” which “are getting squeezed all the time.”

Important fundraisers for the organization every year include the Maine Home + Design kitchen and garden tours and the Play for Education Golf Tournament, said Barber.

Twice a year, in spring and fall, teachers submit proposals for projects they would like to implement in their classrooms that will have an impact on students and challenge the students in new ways, he said.

The makerspace project would enhance the high school’s already-successful robotics program, said Barber, which allows students to build various devices that they bring to robotics tournaments. In November, Cape Elizabeth High School hosted the first Southern Maine VEX Robotics Competition of the season where a three-person team from the high school won the design award and qualified for the Maine State VEX Championship in February.

“It allows students to get very hands-on while relating to ideas or concepts they could be covering in any range of classes or programs,” said Barber of the makerspace concept. “There’s tremendous upside and potential.”

According to its website, the education foundation has awarded almost $1.1 million in grants since it was established in 2002. This past summer, with a $28,000 grant from the education foundation, the middle school was able to convert its outdated library into a more flexible space with updated technology following a “learning commons” model.

Kelly Hasson, principal at Pond Cove Elementary School, said her $6,500 grant would enable first graders to participate in a variety of projects surrounding Cape Elizabeth’s history. As part of an interdisciplinary study, students will take a field trip to Portland Headlight and museum at Fort Williams Park in April to interview a former lightkeeper and gain a greater understanding of Cape’s natural marine resources.

Artist-in-residence Sarah Herboldsheimer will work with the students to create a replica of Portland Headlight surrounded by three-dimensional tidal pools that will be unveiled during the school’s annual Arts Day on May 29 as part of the town’s 250th anniversary celebration. Also in May, Carol Stiengart of Coast Encounters in Wells will teach the students about intertidal pools by bringing a “touch tank” of live sea creatures to the school, said Hasson.

According to Hasson, the education foundation and the Pond Cove Parents Association provided matching grants of $7,500 for a total of $15,000 to third and fourth-grade students to create a permanent mural installation in the Pond Cove lobby and give theatrical performances about Cape Elizabeth’s history to commemorate the town’s 250th anniversary.

“We want all of our students to learn of Cape’s rich history and connection to the sea throughout the years,” she said. “We are extremely grateful for their support, and, as a school, are ecstatic to have our students provided with the opportunity to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime celebration of their town’s history.”

Barber said the foundation was particularly impressed with “how Kelly involved all the first-grade teachers to build a cohesive concept they could fit into their curriculum,” and expand on.

“The (grant) process is so much fun for the board because every (budget) cycle we get a view into incredible creativity and passion that the teachers bring to their daily work,” he said. “It’s exciting to think about where these grants could go and the different experiences they are opening up to the kids.”