PORTLAND — This fall the Portland Education Foundation was able to increase its teacher grants by 35 percent to $73,500, including funds to help new immigrants assimilate.

The goal of the teacher grants program is to enrich the educational experience of students and to assist with innovations in the classroom, according to Kate Snyder, executive director of the foundation.

A grant to the New Arrival Center at King Middle School was among the various initiatives that received funding. The center supports an environment for students who have just come to the U.S. and have had no formal education or experienced interrupted schooling.

These students are often several grade levels below their peers in academic proficiency. But through the use of the Playaway audiobooks platform, they are more easily introduced to English and to text reading, according to Jen Dorval, the English language learner teacher at King.

“An additional benefit is that the activity of listening to a native English speaker read is not only a calming activity, but also an excellent model of oral listening language,” Dorval said.

“It is crucial for English language learners to have the text read to them while they follow along, as it increases vocabulary, assists with fluency, and helps to build basic literacy skills that (these) students are lacking,” she added.

In applying for the Playaway books grant, Dorval said the audiobooks with their corresponding texts “would be invaluable to our English language learners,” but she also said that “all students could benefit from these materials.”

The teacher grants provided by the Portland Education Foundation fund everything from books, technology and equipment to field trips, guest speakers and more, according to the organization’s website.

“We believe that investments made directly at the point of teaching and learning positively impacts student experiences and outcomes,” the website said.

“This year’s funded projects represent a broad range of learning opportunities in all subjects and at all grade levels, and include experiences such as printmaking, gardening, dancing, and science projects,” Snyder said in a press release.

She said 90 grants were awarded to the 97 applications received across the district.

“Once again, we’re proud to support the energy and innovation of Portland’s teachers,” Sarah Moran, chairwoman of Teacher Grants Committee said. “Investment in these projects is investment in our future.”

“I am a huge supporter of the work (the education foundation) does on behalf of our students and teachers,” Xavier Botana, superintendent of the Portland Public Schools, said.

“The teacher grants program is one great example of how (the foundation) adds value to our district,” he said.

“Their investment in teachers is critical. The level of interest in these grants by our teachers demonstrates how committed (they) are to creating innovative, inter-disciplinary and engaging experiences for their students.”

Botana also recognized L.L. Bean and EnviroLogix for their support and for “believing in, and investing in, our teachers.”

Other supporters of the teacher grants program include the Lennox Foundation, Androscoggin Bank, Gorham Savings, Saco & Biddeford Savings Foundation, Machias Savings Bank, Maine Medical Center and Portland Pottery.

“It’s the support of donors to this program that allows PEF to do what we do,” Snyder said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Portland Public School students enjoy a field trip to the Scarborough Marsh as part of the teacher grant program supported by the Portland Education Foundation.