At its November 9th board meeting the Chatham Education Foundation, (CEF), awarded over $19,800 to 12 projects for the 2017 school year. This is the 14th year the Foundation is in existence and able to distribute funds. Established in 2002, the CEF’s mission is to raise and distribute private dollars for innovative and inspiring projects not fundable by the regular school budget. And this year its board members– nine community members and parents, four school personnel and two high school students—were especially excited by the quality and variety of the projects it was able to support.
In the high school, after studying scientific and cultural aspects of the Hudson River in the classroom, 50 students will sail the Hudson on The Clearwater Sloop, for a day. On deck, they will learn how such ships were sailed and who sailed them. Below deck the river’s commercial history from its earliest whaling days through to the present will be shared. They will be able to sample and evaluate the health of the river’s waters by taking samples and participate in a newly funded project designed to assess the amount of plastic trash and its ecological impact in Hudson.
Another significant high school project will involve an in-school assembly and evening program offered to the larger community presented by Chris Herren, a nationally recognized NBA basketball player who overcame a long battle with drug addiction and now shares his experience and knowledge with communities across the nation. Tied in with this project are various in-school activities and efforts to help students and their parents avoid addiction.
Another grant will provide a science teacher devoted to the study of birds so that students may study birds throughout the year and participate in the annual Cornell Ornithology watch Honors
Senior English students will once more have the opportunity to study with professor Jim Kraft of Old Chatham, who specializes in the work of two famous local writers, Edith Wharton and Henry James.
Funds will be provided for students to participate in a new, nationally developed robotics experience to promote interest in science, technology and engineering. Students will volunteer to participate in all aspects of a program aimed to support and educate community and school about their building of a robot and then in entering their accomplishment in local and possibly national contests.
In the Middle School for the third year in a row Social Studies teacher, William Richard, will receive CEF funds to extend his project of exposing all seventh grade students to early American History in a project called “American Revolution Comes Alive.” Through hands-on learning, students—in appropriate costume—will learn not just about what life was like in battle (or in a military hospital) but also in 18th century domestic life, including open fire cooking, flax spinning and the manufacture of everyday goods. To enrich the reenactment other subject matter teachers integrate their curricula building on the reenactments.
Another project will provide seventh and eighth grade students with the opportunity to produce an original film in a six-week afterschool project offered by the Chatham Film Club. The film will be shown both at the Crandall Theater and in the school.
And once more CEF will help fund a Middle School project involving ‘Character Education.’ A school-wide, year-long undertaking, students engage in activities that are designed to develop qualities such as empathy, cooperation, perseverance, courage. Four major school-wide assemblies with invited speakers are held.
At MED elementary school each fifth grade classroom will have the opportunity to work with Jamal Jackson, a well-known West African dancer and educator. He will introduce students to traditional dances from Mali and teach the meaning and history behind them. Students will be helped to learn dancing and drumming and will then discuss how dance and music provide an understanding of one’s own and different cultures.
A grant enabling the acquisition of ukuleles will let current and future fifth graders learn to play them. Playing the ukulele, a “fun” instrument, should open the doorway to further appreciation of music.
For the third and last year of collaboration with MED, the Flying Deer Nature Center, an educational center dedicated to teaching about the environment and local Native American tribes, will work with fourth graders to complete the building of an Iroquois Longhouse, a structure that served as community and living centers. During Year One, fourth graders helped build the frame by lashing saplings together; in Year Two, bark was harvested, flattened and dried for shingles to cover the sapling. Phase Three will involve the making of cattail mats for sitting and sleeping. An exploration of the Iroquois’ reliance and interaction with the environment is a central theme of this project.
The connection between poetry and language with visual art forms is explored in an after-school program for Kindergarteners through fifth graders offered by artists from the Art School of Chatham. Poems are read out loud and in unison, creative writing exercises are undertaken and then the children make collages and simple paintings inspired by the poems, thus suggesting the connection between spoken and visual language.
Two endowments support the CEF’s work, the largest of which is the Fund for Arts and Humanities, established by the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, which supports projects in the arts and humanities. A second, smaller fund, in the name of former school board head, the Alexander M. White Fund, is available for all academic activities. The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation administers the Foundations two funds.