The idea couldn’t be simpler, really. “We fund projects that will enhance and extend the educational experience of the students in the New Paltz school district,” said Maya Eyler, president of the New Paltz Central School District Foundation for Student Enhancement. And despite what the name of the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization might suggest, the group is an independent one. “We work with the school district, but we’re not part of the district. We’re just community members. Most of us either have kids currently in or kids that have gone through the district.”
“The heart of what we do,” Eyler said, “is go to the teachers and ask them to come up with proposals for projects that fall outside of the curriculum. We’re not here to replace programs lost through [budget] cuts but to offer ‘extras,’ more educational opportunities that benefit the students at all four schools in the district.”
There are currently 15 members in the organization that was started in 2011. They meet on the second Tuesday of each month at the district office at Lenape Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are open to the public and new members are welcome. No dues are required.
The meetings revolve around discussing the proposals from teachers that have come in and deciding which ones to pursue. “It’s really up to the teachers to come up with these wonderful, creative ideas that will inspire their students. They have to come up with the project and do the leg work required for it to be successful, but we try to facilitate it in any way we can.”
The first enhancement project the Foundation undertook was to purchase six Nooks for the high school library in the fall of 2011, followed by six more for the middle school the next spring. Since then, the Foundation has funded more than a dozen other projects that cover a spectrum of educational experiences.
One of their earlier projects was the purchase of an atomic emission spectrum for high school science classes that allows students to learn how to calculate energies released by electrons and observe the transitions plotted out in the forms of peaks and wavelengths. “We also supported our high school engineering students who worked with the SUNY New Paltz engineering department to design a solar car shell,” said Eyler. “That was basically already happening, but we paid for some special materials they needed to make the solar car model.”
Last year, former New Paltz Middle School music teacher Kimberly Harrison put in a request for the purchase of ukuleles. “She took the initiative, got a set of 30 classroom ukuleles with cases, and incorporated that into the music curriculum,” said Eyler. “Now every sixth grader gets the chance to learn how to play the ukulele. And apparently it’s a very accessible instrument, especially if you haven’t had [musical] training in the past.” Harrison also started a ukulele club after school and her students performed in the spring music concert, Eyler added. “A lot of really happy kids came out of that project.”
Then there are all the copies of I am Malala purchased by the Foundation for the social justice-themed book club run at the middle school by teacher Valerie Hughes. In reading the firsthand account of their contemporary, Malala Yousafzai — shot at age 15 by the Taliban for pursuing her education — students have the opportunity to better understand the current cultural climate in the Middle East and learn its relevance to their world.
And the Foundation helped bring about an author/illustrator visit at Lenape Elementary School, proposed by teacher Elaine Thomas. Children’s book author Barbara Bash came into the school to teach third graders about the artistic process. The students learned some drawing skills along with discovering how an idea and illustrations are turned into a book.
“The next big project we’re about to roll out is the Math Toolkit project at Duzine,” Eyler said. Designed by first grade teachers Matt Elkin and Robin Taliaferro, the Math Toolkits will be sent home for every child at the parent-teacher conferences coming up this month. The kits contain playing cards, erasable number boards, dice and magnetic counters, all designed to help children solidify their number sense and place value and increase their confidence in their math skills. The kits are even available in Spanish.
An instructional video is included with each Math Toolkit to help parents understand how best to use the tools. “That was another thing exciting about the project,” said Eyler. “Students at the high school [Daniel Talbert and Mateo Julia-Wise] did all the filming for the video and then went back to their classroom and worked on post production, editing it. So it was an enhancement project for the high school, too.” And the kits were assembled with the help of some SUNY New Paltz early education students and their professor, Nataly Chesky. “We liked the way this project extended the opportunity to collaborate with the high school and the college,” said Eyler. High school media arts teacher Jen Cone also assisted.
Making it happen
The Foundation raises the funds to pay for the projects through various means, including an annual wine tasting dinner each spring and a Super Bowl pool that works like a 50/50 raffle. That was a popular event, Eyler said, with squares that sold for $100 each selling out quickly. Winners received $250 at the first and third quarter, $500 at the half and $4,000 for the final score, with the Foundation receiving $5,000 to support its projects.
This week brings the deadline for teacher proposals for the coming year. “We’re really excited to see what comes in,” said Eyler. “We visited with all the teachers earlier in the fall to remind them that we’re here for them. We’re hoping they got pretty inspired.”
For more information, visit the New Paltz Central School District Foundation for Student Enhancement on Facebook or at www.npschoolfoundation.org.