Achieve Foundation announces fall 2021 education grant recipients

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The board of trustees at the Achieve Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting high-quality education that prepares South Orange–Maplewood School District students for the future, has announced the recipients of its fall 2021 education grant awards. Local SOMA educators will receive $66,000 in grants that fund 34 varied projects and programs to support students in the areas of art, equity, music, STEM, special education, professional development, library materials and more. 

“This year more than ever before we’ve seen an increase in grant applications particularly in areas that support social-emotional learning, special education, mental health and social work initiatives from teachers and administrators as they transition students back to in-person learning this fall,” Achieve Executive Director Eileen Collins Neri said. “We are so thankful to our vibrant and active community that supports our many events and fundraisers to make these educator grants possible for students in our public schools.” 

Achieve received 48 applications in this grants cycle with requests for funding approaching $129,000. The grants selected this year by the grants committee and approved by the Achieve Foundation board of trustees include a diverse range of initiatives to address gaps in classroom, school and administrative services, many resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some examples of initiatives that address social-emotional needs include support for mindfulness rooms at Marshall and Tuscan schools, cafeteria enhancements for anxious and underserved students at South Orange Middle School, “Joyful Starts to the School Day” at Seth Boyden, Positive Action bullying prevention at Maplewood Middle School, and new materials and therapeutic tools for the social workers and social work interns throughout the district. 

“Everyone is struggling,” grants committee member Theresa Pasinosky said. “Of course the students are adjusting to a return to school, but also the teachers because they are on the front lines supporting kids and working to get kids back to grade level. The teachers, social workers and school nurses should have any necessary tools at this time to support students.”

Additional highlights from a sample of the winning grants include: special education initiatives that focus on socialization, inclusion and community-based instruction; support for Columbia High School all-school musical licensing and staging; string instruments for middle and elementary school music programs; a black experience curriculum for CHS students that features “Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge,” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, to personalize U.S. history through the life story of an escaped slave, and “Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light,” a documentary that provides a look at the pioneering years of African American presence in Europe; author Susan Muaddi Darraj, who wrote the “Farah Rocks” books, to virtually visit all elementary school children; NJPAC/NJ Arts Education virtual residency at MMS to teach hip-hop culture, beat boxing and dance; a wide-scale artist-in-residence program at Seth Boyden called “Self-Identity and Narrative in Nature”; STEM initiatives including “Bridge over Troubled Water,” which applies geometry principles to design bridges; and professional development and support for new teachers at Clinton Elementary School.

A full list of the Achieve fall 2021 award recipients can be found at Community members are encouraged to review open funding opportunities on several grant proposals that were not fully funded by Achieve in this round. Anyone can donate directly to these initiatives through Oct. 31. Visit for more information. 

The application for the next round of grant funding will be open from Nov. 1 to Dec. 10, with grants to be awarded by the end of January 2022. These “Deborah Prinz Educator Grants” will focus on broader-scale projects that benefit a school, grade level or academic discipline. Interested SOMSD educators who would like to submit a proposal may find the application on the Achieve website in November. 

Photos Courtesy of Eileen Collins Neri