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Foundation Awards Local Education Grants
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OEF grant committee chairperson Kim Whitemyer leans in to peer at a slide through a Bock Magiscope, paid for with OEF grant money in 2008 for Kevin Heim’s fourth grade class at Magnolia Elementary School during the OEF grant awards ceremony on Dec. 3. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

In a year when school districts have been hit especially hard financially, it was a welcome relief when 74 grants totaling $97,000 were recently awarded to teachers in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District from the Oakdale Educational Foundation. Grants were awarded to individual teachers and groups of teachers to benefit their students at an awards reception on Dec. 3 held at Oakdale High School.

This is the sixth year that the OEF had awarded grants to teachers in the OJUSD with the goal of enriching the quality of education for all students in the district.

“The cool thing about it, it goes directly to the kids,” said OEF grant committee chairperson Kim Whitemyer. She added that OEF is different than some large foundations that may raise $200,000 annually but only contribute about $15,000 to benefit students and teachers, as the rest of the money pays for administrative costs.

In spite of the down economy, OEF President Connie Friel said that OEF grossed $103,000 on its fundraising efforts this year and that the live auction held at their fundraiser dinner and concert was the most successful to date. She also said that there were many new faces at this year’s annual fundraiser and that people have come to know that the OEF holds a great event.

“We have good core supporters each year,” said OEF board member Jan Barton, adding that each year more of the community learns about OEF and its mission. She further speculated that people are very aware of the plight of schools in California and the local community wanted to support the schools.

Friel said that in the past, the school district had the ability to contribute significantly along with the funds raised by OEF to add to the grant process, particularly in cases where the applications were written for items or programs that the district would normally provide or if it had special monies. However, with to state budget cuts, the district was able to contribute approximately $17,000 this year toward the grant effort.

Friel noted that the OEF has a number of highly dedicated volunteers but the reason they’re able to provide these grants is because of the financial supporters.

OJUSD Superintendent Fred Rich said that the first year the OEF was formed, their goal was to raise $15,000-$20,000 but they raised more than double that amount and the amount has grown each year.

On display at the awards reception were a few of the items and materials that OEF grants have provided for classrooms. There was a reading program and CD players for Vicki Stewart’s students at Fair Oaks, there were animal research books for Claire Soares’ students at Sierra View, there were artistically carved wood projects done with a laser mini engraver by Bill McMahon’s students at Oakdale High School, Brock Magiscopes for Kevin Heim’s students at Magnolia, and more.

Heim said that he received a generous OEF grant for the purchase of the 10 Brock Magiscopes in 2008.

“My fourth grade students enjoy using the microscopes to view everything from fibers, prepared slides, plant specimens, rocks, and minerals,” Heim said. “The use of a microscope helps to sharpen powers of observation and gain an appreciation of the amount of details in our world.”

He explained that these microscopes use a thick fiber optic cylinder that channel ambient room light or sunlight to the underside of the objective lens. They also require no electricity and are simple to operate.

“The OEF is so great to us,” said Oakdale Junior High School history teacher Micki Dias who received a grant for a document camera and Presenters of the Past this year.

She said that a document camera will allow her to put up student work as an example or showcase an exceptional student project. It will save paper and money by showing the workbook or homework page versus making 200 copies, and the class can follow along and watch as she draws or writes out the lesson.

The Presenters of the Past/Workshop in the Woods presentation is a group that demonstrates medieval life, for example, in full character and thereby bringing history alive.

“The adventures of Sir Francis Drake with his multitude of artifacts and stories of pillaging under the name of the queen, the gallant knight showing off the weaponry and battle tactics of the Middle Ages and the importance of feudalism and, last but not least, the students will play a game of Rounders, the game that is about castle siege, pitted village against village and said to be the precursor to baseball,” Dias explained of the presentation. “Of course, the falconer will also return with his very informative presentation of falconry, the sport of kings, showing off the birds. The presentation includes biology, a discussion on da Vinci, the history of the sport, the prestige and respect associated with falconry during the Middle Ages and a whole lot more. These presenters really bring history to life with all the really incredible artifacts they bring.  The students get to play, touch, feel... Very hands on, very interactive.”