Alan Jacobs, president of the Falmouth Education Foundation, presented an annual update to the Falmouth School Committee at the committee’s January 26 meeting. Mr. Jacobs spoke of the value the foundation, or FEF, places on the close relationships with the Falmouth Public Schools over the years and how those relationships have enabled FEF this year to pivot sharply to help meet the district’s new, unanticipated needs.

“When it became clear last spring that school closures would be long-term,” Mr. Jacobs said, “we approached Superintendent [Lori S.] Duerr and asked how we might help meet, outside of our normal grant pathways, the district’s challenges. Dr. Duerr told us she was most concerned about the effect the schools’ closure was having on its youngest students. To meet this crisis, we responded with a $125,000 grant from the emergency fund we had built over many years to provide Chromebooks, mobile WiFi hotspot devices, and computer mice so every student could have access to online programs and access to their teachers.”

Despite the challenges teachers faced last spring, FEF received more than 30 project grant applications for this school year. FEF wholly or partially funded each application, awarding more than $111,000 in project grants. According to Mr. Jacobs, the pandemic did not change the breadth and scope of the projects, nor did it dampen teachers’ dedication. The projects represent the collaboration of more than 80 teachers and involve every school and nearly every student in Falmouth. The projects continue a trend FEF has seen for the last few years: cross-school, cross-grade, cross-discipline. The projects are rich and provide students opportunities that are engaging and dynamic.

Unfortunately, many of these project grants have not been used due to COVID-19; some because they included field trips, some brought visitors into the schools, some would have required students to be within acceptable social distance. So, FEF worked with the teachers and postponed those grants to next school year.

“However, some teachers have been creative and made modifications enabling them to implement this year’s project grants.” Mr. Jacobs said. “For example, Corine Adams, rather than take her students to artists’ studios, purchased a GoPro camera, and brought the artists into her classroom. The VIPS College Mentoring program has gone forth over Zoom. And Krista Hennessy will be conducting her Day of Poetry virtually February 11 and 12.”

Before school even started, FEF had more than a half-dozen applications for its Teacher Opportunity Grants—grants for up to $300 for unexpected teaching/learning opportunities— and another half-dozen shortly thereafter. While FEF funded these—and more than a dozen others—FEF’s relationships with teachers and administrators allowed FEF to better understand the unique needs of this year. In response, FEF quickly introduced Access Grants—grants of up to $2,500 with short application forms that are turned around quickly to help with new learning models needed during this exceptional academic year.

“Already FEF has awarded almost 20 Access Grants totaling over $22,000,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Three that particularly caught my eye included a grant for snowshoes for physical education at North Falmouth—since there is no indoor space for PE at North Falmouth this grant provides a meaningful opportunity for students to venture outdoors, have cardiovascular exercise and experience nature. Another, by Sarah Cox and Daria Kasparian, will make it possible for all 10th grade students to remotely attend Mass Poetry Festival’s Student Day of Poetry in May. And, finally, Alyssa Guida’s and Ryan Webber’s grant to purchase PAR Lights for the theater courses at FHS will be used when the Theater Club live-streams its presentation of “Clue” this weekend.”

Mr. Jacobs announced FEF’s delight in awarding FEF’s first Ellen Barol Student Grant. This grant was initiated by two 4th grade students—children from different schools working together—to purchase T-shirts to help all the remote learning 4th graders at all four elementary schools promote their community and remember their very unusual 2020-21 school year.

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