The Brunswick Community Education Foundation decided to offer emergency mini-grants to Brunswick school teachers this school year, helping them find new and safe ways to teach students during a pandemic.

The donation-based foundation offers grant applications once a year but board member Susan Olcott said the board agreed to offer four rounds this year. The organization just finished its third round of applications this school year.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, there was obviously an immediate need for technology that came from talking to people in the district and superintendent’s office,” Olcott, a member of the Brunswick foundation’s board. “We were able to raise a bunch of money and purchase 50 laptops just in the thick of things and following that, we started to get some interesting emails from teachers saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. It’s outside of the regular funding cycle; would you consider supporting a project like this?'”

Olcott said the board created an easier application and faster turnaround. The emergency grants were created to continue supporting innovation in education with projects that would not be funded through the existing school budget.

Tracy Kinney, the talent development teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, helped write the application for the $1,400 grant just awarded to the school for a science project. All fourth graders will participate.

Kinney said students will be learning about Maine owls, their behavior and habitat. Students will dissect owl pellets, which are compacted remains of fur and bones the owl coughs up after eating prey. The kids then study the bones to identify what the owl has eaten, Kinney said. The grant allows each student to have their own owl pellet and equipment so they can stay 6 feet apart.

“The grant also allowed us to provide equity in that all learners are going to have the same experience whether they are at home or coming to school, at once,” Kinney said.

All teachers have had to rethink how they safely teach students during the pandemic, Kinney said. The current school budget was created in late 2019 or early 2020, before the pandemic even hit Maine. The grants help teachers find new solutions on the fly, she said.

With 30 grants worth $35,000 awarded this year, Olcott said the Brunswick Community Education Foundation has had the biggest impact on education in Brunswick yet. The foundation may continue offering more frequent grants going forward.

“We’ve gotten more applications than we’ve ever gotten and we want to keep doing what works for the teachers,” Olcott said.

MSAD 75’s Trust for Our Future

Maine School Administrative District 75 also has an education fund named Trust for Our Future. Its purpose is to support enrichment opportunities and innovative teacher projects that go above and beyond the regular school day, said Holly Kopp, the past president of the trust.

The organization offers mini-grants once a year to support the education community within the district, which serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham. With an operating budget of about $10,000 a year, the donation-based organization gives out $5,000 to $6,000  grants across the district each year. Most of the most recent projects are on hold due to the pandemic, Kopp said.

The foundation will soon offer its first student scholarship thanks to a former Harpswell couple who has agreed to donate $20,000 to the trust annually for up to five years. The gift by Roger M. Tarpy and Jean E. Roberts will fund two or more scholarships awarded each year — at least one to a graduating senior from Mt. Ararat High School, and another to a member of the MSAD 75 faculty to fund professional enrichment or investments.

The awards would be up to $2,000 each beginning in June.

Kopp said education trust also provides an opportunity for philanthropic donations to benefit students and faculty, “and we’ve created a system to administer and implement what they envision, which is great.”

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