Twice a year, the Portola Valley Schools Foundation fulfills grant requests from teachers and staff for educational innovation and enhancements. The grants allow teachers to expand their instructional toolkits with cutting edge methods of instruction and additional materials that would not otherwise be included in the yearly budget. The new multi-modal approaches that the Foundation’s support make possible are designed to help all students more deeply understand course material and inspire their passion for learning. Without this funding, many popular and pivotal programs would never have come to be.
The Foundation carefully tracks the results of each grant and the most successful become part of the ongoing curriculum, supported by the general budget.
Some recent grants include:
One of the largest Endowment Fund grants the Portola Valley Schools Foundation gave in 2019 was Promethean screens in all classrooms. Paid for jointly by the District and the Foundation, these interactive, WiFi-enabled displays make it easier for students to see shared instructional materials and allow the teacher to control the display from anywhere in the room.
Whether it’s a math equation, a collaboration for a class project or a student presentation, all kids see what’s on the board from their desks in a dependable, bright, easy-to-read display.
In the words of 3rd grade teacher Daphna Woolfe: “As I began my Back to School Night presentation, I literally hugged the new active board, and told the parents how grateful I was to have this amazing piece of technology.”
New Instruments for CMS Band
The good news: New music teacher Josina-Els Bol is so popular that band enrollment at Corte Madera school is at its highest level in five years.
The bad news: There aren’t enough instruments to go around.
With a grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund in 2020, Bol supplemented the current supply with a piccolo, three flutes, three saxophones, three trumpets, two euphoniums and three trombones (two regular and one bass). Interest in percussion has been particularly high, so Bol added a marimba, a vibraphone, a gong stand and mallets and a set of chimes.
“With this surge in growth, I have loaned out every CMS-owned instrument in our inventory,” Bol wrote in her grant. “Sadly, I have had to turn students away and ask them to play a different instrument because I did not have the one they selected. It is crucial for children to play the instrument of their choice because they will put forth their best effort to learn it, and their love for music, the instrument, and band will grow from there.”
Lunchtime Art Club at Ormondale
They designed a city called Ormondalopolis and painted pictures of a cactus that needs a hug. In the month of “InkTober,” they drew, drew and drew some more.
Those were just two of the art projects taken on by 1st through 3rd graders at the Ormondale Lunchtime Art Club, supported by a 2018 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund. Twice a month, the art room is jam packed with kids from the moment they finish eating until the bell rings. All projects coincide with Social Emotional Learning concepts introduced that month by Counselor Tamryn Miller, so the children have an opportunity to show what those SEL skills mean to them.
“Art can be a great way to self-regulate,” says parent Sarah Vincenzo, who runs the program. “And also challenge yourself to grow.”
Sound System Upgrades on Both Campuses
They practiced their stage entrances and band compositions for months. They endured rehearsals and costume fittings. They fought through pre-performance jitters. And then … They did it! They aced their lines. They hit every note. They were magnificent!
But you couldn’t hear it. Where you sat, the sound mix was a jumbled mess.
That was the reality of school plays and music concerts at both Ormondale and Corte Madera for years because the old audio systems were outdated, broken, and simply not doing the job after more than a decade of service.
But not anymore. The Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund, in conjunction with the District, in 2019 paid for new amplifiers and sound controllers that operate from an iPad using a graphical programming system. When combined with the microphones the Foundation paid for in 2017, the sound quality is greatly enhanced for plays, concerts, school assemblies and more.
Finally, your children will be …. heard.
Robotics has become such a popular program at Corte Madera School that Science Teacher Teresa Richard is expanding the offerings.
CMS traditionally sent one team per year to the region-wide VEX Robotics Competition, but demand for the after-school club is large enough now that the school can send two teams of four 6th, 7th and 8th graders apiece to two separate tournaments, and offer a non-competitive club in addition.
With a 2019 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund, Richard wants to build separate junior varsity and varsity teams so that new students can gain experience before joining the more seasoned and competitive group, and so that the two levels can do practice runs against one another before entering the competition ring.
“Watching students struggle with a problem and watching them solve it is priceless,” Richard wrote in her grant. “This program is designed to give students open-ended challenges limited only to the power of their minds. Robotics provides students an opportunity to solve problems, troubleshoot them, and learn the basics of project management, which are all essential parts of the engineering process.”
A take-apart molecule set. CO2 and 02 sensors to measure gas level changes for Environmental Science experiments. Four additional microscopes plus one with a camera for displaying slides on smart board screens. An additional plant lighthouse and pedometers to compare walking distance, pace and heart rate.
With a 2019 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund, Corte Madera’s Science teachers purchased new lab equipment to adapt their instruction to the newest Science education curriculum. The recently -adopted Next Generation Science Standards integrate Life, Earth and Physical Science in a way that spirals outward, meaning grades 6, 7 and 8 work with the same equipment year-round. That required new and additional pieces so there are enough for all three grades to work simultaneously.
“By enriching the experience for students in all 6th through 8th grade classes,” the teachers wrote in their grant ” this will help improve and motivate students to stay interested in Science and learn through hands-on experiments.”
Engineering Weather Safe Buildings for Tomorrow
The Next Generation Science Standards program instituted in recent years includes a weather unit for all 3rd graders. The new curriculum teaches how natural forces change the weather, local weather-related problems such as wildfires and floods, and extreme weather around the globe with a spotlight on climate change. The unit culminates in a challenge to create a weather-safe community.
With a 2019 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund, the 3rd grade teachers purchased three analog weather stations with thermometers, hygrometers and storm glass weather predictors to give students a visual understanding of temperature changes, barometric pressure and humidity. They also bought books for students’ research.
Because the unit concludes with a challenge to build a weather-safe structure, they also purchased an industrial fan to create a wind tunnel where students will test their final creations.
“Hands on projects always capture the imagination of students,” teacher Daphna Woolfe said, “and make the learning all that more memorable.”
For more than a decade, the Portola Valley Schools Foundation has supported continuing education programs for our teachers to ensure they are well trained and using the latest in educational thinking. Some examples of trainings that the Foundation has funded include:
- Patterns, Functions and Algebraic Thinking Mathematics Workshop (2006)
- Southwest Conference on Language Training (Spanish teachers 2007)
- Computer Using Educators (CUE) Conference (2009)
- National Service Learning Conference (2009)
- Teacher Training and Student Learning with FOSS Science (2010)
- Learning and the Brain Conference (2012)
- Professional Development for Common Core and Strategic Plan (2013)
- Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop, Homegrown Institute (2014)
- Reading Recovery Training (2016)
- National Association of School Psychologists Summer Conference (2018)
- Curiosity Across Curriculum Conference (2018)
- Professional Development Equity Training (2019)