MAPLEWOOD, NJ — On a picture perfect October day, a small band of Seth Boyden teachers gathered on the school’s front lawn to receive nearly $19,000 worth of checks from the Achieve Foundation. The money, which will fund nine projects at Seth Boyden, is part of 34 grants totaling $64,987 that Achieve will give this cycle to fund projects at nine of the district’s 10 schools.
Seth Boyden received the largest share of Achieve’s pot. One grant will enable all fourth graders to visit the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City to do hands-on activities about tectonic plates, and another will provide for fifth-graders to travel to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
“It’s just a great opportunity,’’ said fifth-grade teacher Jesse Hein, who applied for the grant to visit the museum. New York City “is the cultural capital of the world and I have … kids who’ve never been,” Hein said, saying he is still deciding whether to visit the dinosaur or diorama exhibits first, although he is certain that the students will explore the museum to its fullest.
Not only will the money given at Seth Boyden allow students to visit places they have never seen, it will also fund books to widen their worlds, and pay for teachers at the school to receive training on cultural awareness, so their worlds might be expanded too.
But those are hardly the only gifts given this cycle. Achieve is giving more than $13,000 for programs at Maplewood Middle School, nearly $8,000 to Clinton Elementary and almost $5,500 at Columbia High School. Grants will bring new furniture to the Maplewood Middle School library, provide South Orange middle schoolers with cooking supplies, send sophomores and juniors to tour New Jersey college campuses, and broaden the minds of South Mountain students with a rash of new books devoted to historically underrepresented voices.
“We’re thrilled to support our SOMA students and faculty with innovative and exciting programs that address inequities, champion excellence and bring school communities together in meaningful ways,” Achieve Executive Director Eileen Collins Neri said. “We, in turn, thank our donors and supporters who make it possible for Achieve to bestow these grants.”
This fall, Achieve is funding more than $17,000 worth of grants tied to social and emotional learning, as needs exacerbated by the pandemic remain high. More than $6,000 of that total will go to Clinton School, which plans to create three spaces students can use when they are struggling with their emotions.
“The areas will help students to pause, assess their needs, refocus their attention and then respond,’’ Clinton Principal Jennifer Connors said. “These areas will teach students to be more fully present, allowing them to be more attentive and productive when they return to class.”
Students aren’t the only ones who will benefit from a focus on emotional well-being. Two teachers at Montrose School received money toward SEL training. In their application, Kelly Donovan and Betsy Hannon stated that the program is designed to teach educators “how to use mindfulness, yoga and social-emotional learning as an instrument for healing and social-emotional change in our classrooms, district and community.” Donovan and Hannon have already started teaching mindfulness techniques to other SOMSD staff, and will continue to provide sessions for students, teachers, families and the community as well.
As in years past, Achieve has partially funded several worthy projects and hopes community members will add to that funding through the foundation’s direct funding process, which is open now through Nov. 1. To learn more, visit achievefoundation.org.
The music department sought three basses to bring the full spectrum of stringed instruments to elementary grades. Two of the instruments have been funded thanks to the Vanessa Pollock Music Initiative and general Achieve funds. Achieve hopes the public can lend additional support to fund a third bass for fifth-graders to learn and practice on.
CHS science teachers Stacey Bachenheimer and Amy Biasucci applied for a grant to cover the cost of two sets of biotechnology equipment that would allow Columbia students to do hand-on experiments using cutting-edge technology. Achieve granted $3,000 for one mini biotech system, and is asking community members to fund the second.
Achieve is also asking for the public’s partnership in bringing a diverse array of assemblies and experiences to Maplewood Middle School, and to provide additional books that represent students’ lives and families to enrich Seth Boyden’s classroom libraries.
Photos Courtesy of Eileen Collins Neri