2015-09-11 / Front Page

Foundation making a fast impact

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Over the past four years, students in Scarborough schools have been able to take part in the Ride to the Top therapeutic equestrian program; start a school store at the high school; learn about 3D printers at the middle school or rocket science at the high school; plant a community garden, geocache and learn the ukulele at Wentworth School and participate in a program to improve at-home literacy at the primary school level.

Teachers and educators did not offer these opportunities through the school budget, but rather through grant funding by the Scarborough Education Foundation (SEF), which is starting its fifth year in 2016.

The foundation, completely run by volunteers, was founded in December 2011 to supplement educational programming offered in the school budget. Other communities, including Falmouth, Cumberland, Cape Elizabeth, Lewiston and Kennebunk/Kennebunkport, have similar education foundations.

“Our mission statement is to provide grant funding for teachers, educators and administrators for creative and innovative ideas, ideas that fall outside the school budget,” said Scarborough Education Foundation President Jeff Ertman.

Since the first grant cycle in spring 2012, Scarborough Education Foundation has handed out more than $75,000 to educators across Scarborough’s six schools. Much of the financial support, Ertman said, comes from the trust of Louis Fineberg, which provided $100,000 over a 10-year period beginning in February 2012.

Fineberg and his wife, Tina were big supporters of the Scarborough schools. Other financial support comes from the annual graduation balloon sale in the spring and the Harvest Celebration, which is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 17 at Bayley’s Campground.

“We’ve had a continuously diverse slate of applications every time. We always manage to find many to fund that we’re excited about,” said Jack Murphy, who co-chairs the grants committee with Will Leadley. The committee is made up of four SEF board members, as well as Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce representative Peter Hatem, retired Blue Point Primary School Principal Sue Helms and at-large community member Nancy Ravin.

Murphy said the next grant cycle is underway. Educators are required to have their applications — which needs approval from both the building principal and central office — into the Scarborough Education Foundation by Monday, Nov. 9. This will give the grant committee an opportunity to review the application and make a decision by the beginning of December.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide seed money for a program that may ultimately find its way into the budget,” said Ertman, who noted, although the foundation supports Scarborough schools, it is not affiliated with the Scarborough School Department.

Murphy said the committee tries to stay as close to its mission as possible and, as a result, as Ertman said, doesn’t fund books, supplies or other items commonly funded through the school budget.

“We want to promote innovative ideas that promote academic excellence,” said Murphy, who has been on the grant committee since the foundation was founded.

While only educators can apply for grant money, members of the public are encouraged to bring ideas for grants to teachers.

Community organizations may also put forth ideas, as long as the application comes from within the Scarborough school district and the organization has a connection, or partnership with one of the schools.

Ertman said one of SEF’s most successful grants was handed out in spring 2014 to fund Marsh Stories, a multi-faceted program that allowed students to learn about the Scarborough Marsh system from local clam diggers and create permanent murals and a performance piece at Wentworth School.

“That one touched on a lot of our goals,” Murphy said, highlighting the community connection and unique learning opportunity for the students.

“That was one of our greatest, if not greatest, success stories of what we envisioned when we started the foundation,” Ertman said.

Despite the success of its grants, board members are still working hard to get the public more familiar with SEF.

“We still struggle. Not everyday, but consistently enough, our board members have conversations with people they know in their social circles and the community where the reaction is, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Scarborough had an education foundation,’” Ertman said. “We are consistently trying to find avenues of community outreach.”

For more information about the Scarborough Education Foundation, visit sefmaine.org.

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