Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Southington Education Foundation - Instilling the love of learning

Selections, excerpts and post scripts from Appleseed
as published weekly in the Southington Citizen 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 

Mark the date of April 30th on your calendar for the 5th Annual Community Spelling Bee at 7 pm on April 30th on April 30, 2015 at the Souhington High School Auditorium. 

I had only heard about the Southington Education Foundation, (SEF), a couple of years ago. I didn’t begin to know what SEF actually does until June 2014 when YMCA friends invited me to a ribbon-cutting at the Y’s Camp Sloper.  The celebration honored the conversion of an existing pavilion to a 750 sq. ft. enclosed building. SEF had provided $20,000 towards the project’s completion, naming it the Myers Family Nature Center. The site now provides indoor and outdoor nature study.  Spring and fall nature study is offered to all 4th graders; bus transportation to Camp Sloper arranged. Other nature learning experiences are contemplated by Sloper and SEF including winter activities and expansion of the Science at Sloper initiative. A tour of the new facility and the presentations widened my perspective of the work at Sloper as well as what SEF actually does.  A brief conversation with  Jan Galati, Chairman of the SEF Board of Directors, and its Treasurer, Alan DeBisschop, whom I had just begun to know as a new neighbor, began my adventure in discovery of the treasures of SEF.  
At the YMCA Super Heroes  Annual Meeting in January 2015 many awards were presented. Southington H.S. Principal, Dr. Martin Semmel, presented the YMCA’s Reaching Out Award to the Southington Education Foundation for its outstanding support of special projects for Southington Schools and the YMCA’s Camp Sloper.  I began to see SEF as a group of well-organized Southington citizens whose hearts and minds are sharply focused on the importance and the complexities of education.  
Finally, last month, I met with Jan Galati and Alan DeBisschop who offered me a closer point of observation of the panoramic work of SEF in our community.  Inspired by their success in their vision, I was impressed by the professionalism, experience and character of the nine members of the Board of Directors, their six standing committees, the dedicated participation of at-large board members and their collaboration with the Southington School System and the YMCA. The people behind SEF recognize the need for innovative and effective programs that open new horizons in student achievement and foster lifelong learning through heightened educational experiences and what it takes to breathe life into such a vision.  
Founded in 2009, SEF is an affiliate of the CT Consortium in Education Foundations which offers conferences, workshops, networking and forum opportunities to its affiliates. Since its inception, SEF has grown significantly. “The commitment to instill a love of learning in our children has gained momentum. SEF reaches out to the community to help secure and inspire excellence and overall achievement in our already outstanding school system”, said Galati. She and DeBisschop did not fail to mention the vital role played by former Southington School District Superintendent, Dr. Joe Erardi,  who opened the door to SEF as an affiliate of the CT Consortium of Education Foundations.
DeBisschop provided a detailed summary of the accomplishments of SEF in its six years. Fifty-five grants have been awarded totaling  $80,402.52 for projects within every school in the Southington public system, including the high school, two middle schools and eight elementary schools, plus TESOL, (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  SEF has provided additional funding of $84,140.45 for six other programs: 

Third grade Art Initiative - $9,804.00; YMCA Camp Sloper - $36,836.65; YMCA Nature Center - $20,000.00; Virtual STEM University - $9,500.00; LEAF program - $2,500.00 and Southington H.S. Robotics Team - $5,500.00. In  March, the Souhington Cyberknights Robotics Team won the Regional Competition that will send them to the World Championship. All told, SEF has invested a total of $165,143.17 in Southington educational support to date. 

Two scholarships are being offered to Southington H.S. students in 2015: (1) the SEF Dr. Joseph V. Erardi, Jr. Scholarship and (2) the SEF STEM Scholarship for Southington students with an interest in majoring or minoring in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.  Details at www.southingtoneducationeducationfoundation.org.
SEF created the Virtual STEM University in collaboration with the Southington Public School District. VSU is a unique, web-based educational resource for teachers that offers easy access to innovative lesson design plans for the classroom. The lesson design plans foster greater aptitude and commitment to STEM education in Southington’s K-12 classrooms. VSU strengthens the move towards digital and global citizenship for the district’s students as technology that advances a more thorough understanding of complex concepts in our 21st century world. VSU has established Southington as a national model for STEM resources and education. Educators hav the ability to exchange ideas and collaborate within their schools and across the district.

Asked his personal insight, DeBisschop said, “I feel so proud of what SEF has done in six years. Its dedicated board, committee members and supporters are the pillars of this foundation.  With the support of the community we hope to expand and develop new programs that are sustainable.”  

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