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Amherst Education Foundation announces grant recipients for area schools

— The Amherst Education Foundation is providing grants for four programs that will enhance education through new technology, academic support and engaging Spanish-speaking, immigrant families new to Amherst.

The foundation’s Excellence Grants for 2013 tally up at $49,225. Foundation leaders say they aim to make learning equitable, relevant and fun for all students attending public schools in Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury.

“We are very proud of the teachers in our schools and thrilled that we can support their efforts by providing for students through these projects and programs,” said Erika Zekos, president of the foundation.

Zekos said the foundation tries to leverage its support by collaborating with the school systems and other partners.

“Many of these projects are under way in some form, but AEF’s contribution helps to make them happen sooner, more comprehensively, more dynamically and more sustainably,” Zekos said.

Of the money appropriated $20,000 will be used to support Welcome to High School, a program that aims to ensure the success of all ninth graders entering the school. The money will be used to pay for both summer and school-year work sessions for ninth-grade teachers and assist them in implementing ways of helping all students boost their achievement.

Zekos said the money will allow teachers to track the effectiveness of the work.

Robotics is Elementary! will get $13,800, money that will help the six elementary schools in Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury buy Lego NXT Mindstorm kits and site licenses. This will give sixth-grade teachers and technology teachers hands-on projects that tie into the state education frameworks for science, technology and engineering, create robotics recess clubs and provide in-school access to technology.

Another $11,225 is going toward Photosynthesis in Action. This money will be used to purchase Labquest 2 handheld database interfaces, sensors, biochambers and charging stations for biology classes. These will become be part of the Ecology and Environmental Science curriculum and biology classes led by teachers James Fownes and Nicholas Shaw.

Finally, $4,000 goes to Family University, the program that features family meetings for Spanish-speaking, immigrant families who are new to the school district. Part of a larger Steps to Success program, it is based on a model by Harvard researchers Karen Mapp and Ronald Ferguson.

The money from the foundation will pay for parent gatherings, Zekos said.

The foundation raises money through donations and fundraising events that include the Spring Sprint, Trivia Bee and Valley Gives.

The third annual Spring Sprint, a 5K run and walk and 1 mile fun run for children, takes place May 18. For more information, visit www.amhersteducationfoundation.org.

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