District awarded more than $70k in grant monies
A combination of innovation and dedication blended with good old-fashioned hard work has proven to be the winning formula for the Point Pleasant Borough School District with regard to district schools’ pursuit of grant funding opportunities. Since the start of the 2016-2017 school year, district schools have cumulatively received over $70,000 from various granting agencies and organizations, reflecting a district-wide commitment to providing students with the best possible educational experience while remaining fiscally responsible and accountable to taxpayers.
“Each year, school and district administration work with the Board of Education to craft a district budget that balances the multitude of funding restrictions with the seemingly competing priority of providing a thorough and efficient education to the children of Point Pleasant Borough,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. “The budget allocates every dollar for a very specific purpose; so, when our outstanding educators – who have earned a reputation for creativity and innovation – propose a project, program or initiative for which budget funds are not available, they are encouraged to pursue funding through available grant opportunities.
“As Superintendent, I feel it is my responsibility to both our students and the Borough’s taxpayers to investigate every available outside funding opportunity that can be used to help support continued excellence and innovation in our schools, regardless of budgetary constraints,” he said.
And judging by district schools’ frequent receipt of grant funds, it’s a responsibility that is shared and valued district-wide.
Ocean Road Elementary School: Investors Bank Grant
Research has shown that physical activity when learning can help increase student engagement and improve mental focus, which is why more and more schools are investigating the benefits of standing desks.
Standing desks are raised desks that offer students the option of standing, sitting on a stool or leaning against the desk. Studies have shown that standing desks improve students’ concentration, engagement, and range of motion while reducing sedentary behavior – critical benefits for students with special needs.
“It’s extremely difficult for children to sit still for hours each day,” said Ocean Road Elementary School Special Education Teacher Suzanne Deegan. “And for students with ADHD or other conditions, it’s near impossible.”
After noticing some of her students’ tendency to fidget and move around during lessons, Mrs. Deegan conducted an informal study of the impact of movement on learning, during which she observed several students who preferred to stand while using a clipboard.
“Over time I noticed that these students were not only more focused on learning but that they actually learned better when they were standing,” she said.
These observations inspired Mrs. Deegan to formally request budget funds to accommodate the purchase of standing desks for her classroom; however, budget constraints limited the purchase to just two desks.
With the goal of having a classroom full of standing desks, Mrs. Deegan looked toward local grant opportunities to fund the purchase of the remaining desks, eventually turning to the Investors Foundation, the charitable arm of Investors Bank. Working with the high school’s Gerard Marrone, she submitted a proposal, requesting $5,000 to purchase an additional 16 desks.
She was notified over the summer that her application was approved and the funds were presented by representatives from Investors Bank at the Board of Education’s October business meeting.
“Thanks to the Investors Foundation my students will now have the choice whether they want to sit or stand,” she said. “These increased options will help them feel more in control and empowered to learn.”
“When you consider brain functions is at its peak when the body is active and stimulated, standing desks make perfect physiological sense,” said Superintendent Smith. “I’m eager to see the impact the addition of the standing desks have on learning among our students. I know I speak for the entire district when I say how grateful I am to the Investors Foundation for helping us better meet the needs of our students.”
Nellie F. Bennett Elementary School: BASF Grant & FirstEnergy Grant
Since 2008, Nellie F. Bennett Elementary School Fifth Grade Teacher Beth Kobesky has developed a knack for writing – and winning – various grants. Working alone and with colleagues, Mrs. Kobesky has been directly responsible for or involved in the receipt of over $22,000 in grant funds to support Nellie Bennett’s educational programs and endeavors. Over the past eight years, Mrs. Kobesky has been the recipient of Target’s Field Trip Grant an astounding eight times, helping to offset the costs for the fifth grade’s annual Sandy Hook field trip. In 2009, she received $4,800 from the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant Program, which provided the necessary funding to establish an outdoor classroom at one of Nellie’s underutilized courtyards. The following year, Mrs. Kobesky was part of a grant writing committee comprised of fellow teachers and representatives from Jenksinson’s Aquarium that applied for and received a $3,382 Barnegat Bay National Estuary Grant, which was used to pilot the Aquarium’s conservation-themed focus program, Learning Today for a Cleaner Barnegat Bay. The program, which teaches the importance of preserving the Barnegat Bay watershed, remains one of the Aquarium’s more popular educational outreaches. Also in 2010, Mrs. Kobesky worked with her fellow members of the Nellie Bennett Green Team, receiving $2,500 from the OceanFirst Foundation’s Go Green School Grant Program, the funds from which were used to implement the Growing Responsible Environmentally Educated Nellie Students, or GREENS, initiative, teaching students the value of composting.
Mrs. Kobesky’s grant pursuits were again successful when earlier this year she received not one but two awards totaling $5,750 to fund a water study project entitled “What’s in the Water.” Working with District Supervisor or Math & Science Jennifer Riback, Mrs. Kobesky submitted proposals to chemical company BASF’s Science Education Grant Program and FirstEnergy’s STEM Grant Program seeking a total of $5,385 to fund the purchase of water quality testing kits.
“We were awarded $5,000 from the BASF Science Grant Program and an additional $750 from FirstEnergy to cover the cost of the water quality testing kits and associated materials as well as the cost of transportation to accommodate all Nellie Bennett fifth grade classes,” said Mrs. Kobesky. “The purpose of the project is to research and sample water from local sources to learn about contaminants, which aligns with the study of global water distribution that our fifth graders learn about as part of their Earth Science Unit.”
According to Mrs. Kobesky the project is slated to begin in April 2017, coinciding with the start of the Earth Science Unit. Lessons will begin with a visit from one of Jenkinson’s Aquarium’s marine biologists who will demonstrate sampling techniques before the students travel to nearby water sources to conduct their own experiments, analyzing data and reporting their findings.
“Through these experiments, students will gain valuable hands-on experience with researching, collecting and analyzing data while drawing meaningful connections between the role of water and contaminants in matter cycles,” said Ms. Riback.
Memorial Middle School & Point Pleasant Borough High School: OceanFirst Grants
The Point Pleasant Borough School District relies on the community’s support to maintain its tradition of excellence. Though the district recognizes and appreciates the contributions of all its community partners, the OceanFirst Foundation continues to stand out for their consistently generous support of district programs and endeavors. Since 2008, the Foundation has contributed $85,000 in the form of various grants awarded to district schools.
In 2008, the Foundation provided a total of $35,000 to fund improvements to the media centers at Nellie Bennett and Memorial Middle School. Two years later it was $5,000 for the same schools to fund projects promoting environmental responsibility. In 2012, the Foundation awarded a $15,000 Model Classroom Grant to Memorial Middle School Science Teacher Tracy Ferm, making her vision of creating an innovative, multi-sensory, science classroom a reality. Two years later in 2014, the Foundation awarded another $10,000 to high school Teacher Dave Johnson to help transform his classroom into a state-of-the-art, technology-driven, business education learning lab. The OceanFirst Foundation recently announced the 15 winners of the 2016 Model Classroom Grant cycle, among them, Memorial Middle School and Point Pleasant Borough High School.
OceanFirst Foundation Executive Director Kathy Durante, OceanFirst Bank Senior Vice President Nina Anuario and Assistant Vice President Frank Scarpone attended the Board of Education’s November Business Meeting where they presented two $10,000 Model Classroom Grants to applicants, middle school Science Teacher Amanda Marinaro and high school Art Teacher Kelly Mitreuter. The grants will be used to fund two unique and innovative projects at the two schools.
At Memorial Middle School, the grant will fund an innovative Mrs. Marinaro’s project entitled A littleBit® of Technology.
“A littleBit® of Technology is centered on the integration of the latest technological tools into the Physical Science classroom, facilitating a fluid learning environment where students are constantly engaged in hands-on projects that have connections to real life problems,” Mrs. Marinaro said.
This will be accomplished, according to Mrs. Marinaro with the purchase of a quantity of Chromebook computers and a classroom set of littleBits® electronics, electronic building blocks that simplify complex technology, empowering students to be creators and inventors of technology.
“Technology is a portal that allows students to always learn something new and relevant, while allowing us to reach beyond the school walls without stepping foot outside of the classroom,” said Mrs. Marinaro. “The new technologies afforded by the Model Classroom Grant will enhance instruction by facilitating a more student-centered learning environment that inspires increased engagement and active learning among our students. The littleBits® put the power of electronics in our students’ hands while the Chromebooks put an entire world of resources at our students’ fingertips.”
Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Model Classroom Grant will be used to update the classroom that is home to the Digital Photography and AV Technology elective classes. The popular classes serve approximately 250 students each year in all grade levels -- one quarter of the student population.
“Prior to our receipt of the Model Classroom Grant, students were using the same camera and software for each project,” said Kelly Mitreuter, who worked on the grant proposal with AV Tech Teacher Pete Casalino. “This was not ideal as it inhibited differentiation. Our vision was to promote differentiation by providing students with various material options, thereby empowering them to make active choices while promoting experimentation in their decisions of which tools to use to produce high quality artwork and videos.”
Thanks to the Model Classroom Grant, students now have access to a choice of different camera lenses, which can be used with a new timer remote controller, a large format printer, and software, all of which were made possible by the grant funds.
“The software allows Mr. Casalino and me the opportunity to mirror students’ computer screens on a large projection screen, facilitating real-time collaboration between students and teacher,” she said. “This unprecedented sharing capability will allow us to better monitor students’ work and provide opportunities to give students instant feedback, which is essential for differentiation.
Nellie F. Bennett Elementary School & Point Pleasant Borough High School Media Center donations
In addition to the more traditional grant programs, the district also benefits from close partnerships with its district- and school-based organizations, whose generous support has recently facilitated a number of large scale projects.
This summer, the district completed renovations to Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Media Center, transforming it into a dynamic, tech-infused 21st century resource center in an effort that was funded by the Point Pleasant Foundation for Excellence in Education.
“Since 2014, the Foundation has provided the media center with a total of $37,300 to fund various improvements and upgrades,” said high school Media Specialist Kimberly Manser.
According to Mrs. Manser, the Foundation contributed $7,300 during the 2014-15 school year to fund upgrades to the media center’s computers. In 2016, the Foundation donated an additional $30,000 to fund a complete media center makeover, which included the purchase and installation of comfortable seating for leisure reading, a multimedia collaboration center, individual desks for quiet study, and informational areas for research needs as well as mobile charging stations.
“The goal was to create a space that cultivated collaboration, supported active exploration and encouraged discovery while inspiring authentic, hands-on learning in a comfortable yet professional environment,” she said.
Judging by students’ positive reactions to and their increased usage of the new media center, that goal was achieved, Mrs. Manser said, “Media center usage has increased substantially, in fact, in order to better accommodate students’ usage, we’ve expanded the hours of operation, opening 40 minutes before the start of the school day and remaining open until 3:20 p.m. – almost an hour after the end of the school day!”
“I’m confident that the media center upgrades will have a profound and lasting impact on learning at Point Pleasant High School and I can just as confidently state that this would not have been possible without the Point Pleasant Foundation for Excellence in Education,” she said. “Thanks to their generosity, our students will have access to a dynamic and engaging multipurpose Media Center that meets their evolving educational, technological and social needs.”
Point Pleasant Schools’ four parent-teacher organizations [PTO] are vital district partners who support various critical programs and endeavors within their affiliated schools. From assemblies to class trips to parties, events and scholarships, the district’s PTOs support and enhance the educational and co-curricular experience of Point Pleasant students and their families. Though evidence of the PTOs support can be observed district-wide it is perhaps currently most visible at Nellie Bennett Elementary School, specifically at the school’s playground, where the PTO recently completed a large renovation effort.
“The Nellie Bennett PTO generously donated roughly $44,000 to fund necessary playground upgrades,” said Nellie F. Bennett Principal James Karaba.
Principal Karaba said the donation covered the cost to purchase and install a rock wall, balance beam, monkey bars and new swings including a handicap-accessible unit.
“Our playground equipment was definitely due for an upgrade,” he said. “It was a challenging situation though because building new play structures is a significant – and costly – undertaking. Fortunately, there seems to be no challenge that is too great where the Nellie PTO is concerned. They responded with their characteristic enthusiasm, launching an aggressive fundraising campaign that included giveback nights and a gift auction among other efforts. The speed with which we were able to meet the fundraising goals is a testament to the commitment and dedication not only of our PTO but also that of the entire Nellie family who supported this effort and who continue to support every endeavor to enhance the Nellie educational experience.”
“A successful partnership between school and community strengthens our ability to provide a quality education for our students,” said Superintendent Smith. “We’re so grateful to all of our district and community partners for their commitment to enriching the learning experience and ensuring every educational advantage for the children of Point Pleasant Borough and for supporting sustained innovation in our schools.”