Achieve Foundation Announces $80,000 in Deborah Prinz Educator Grant Awards

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From The Achieve Foundation of South Orange & Maplewood:

On a bright day in Maplewood, with sun shining through the stained-glass windows that are part of the bright and beautiful new addition at Clinton Elementary, a group of excited teachers gathered to accept checks from the Achieve Foundation. These educators represented a few of the more than 50 faculty members who were awarded money in the most recent grant cycle, dubbed the “Deborah Prinz Educator Grants” in honor of Achieve’s founder upon her retirement from the organization in 2018. 

“Thanks to the generosity of its donors, Achieve was able to bestow $80,575 in grants to teachers across the district, the highest amount ever awarded in a single round of funding,” noted Achieve Executive Director Eileen Collins Neri noted.

That money will enrich the education of hundreds of children across our schools. The 36 projects include the sweeping — more than $10,000 will go toward “Building Culture, Climate & Relationships through Literature” districtwide – and the more pointed: $750 went to Seth Boyden School Speech Therapist Lori Smith to help students with articulation disorders improve their ability to communicate; seventh grade science students at South Orange Middle School (SOMS) will hatch chicks; kindergarteners at Delia Bolden will plant seeds and grow a garden as part of a buddy project with fifth graders there; students at Seth Boyden will get spaces for children who need a moment to calm down and recenter; and math students at Maplewood Middle will learn how to figure out the height of the flagpole using geometry skills.  

The teachers at Clinton will use their money for an impressive array of projects: fifth grade teachers Melissa Leland and Michael Mack will outfit their classrooms with construction kits that will entice their students to create and experiment through building. Mack also received money for kinesthetic classroom equipment that will allow students to move while they learn. Jennifer Ostrega received money to take her multilingual learners and their families to the Essex County Environmental Center. Clinton librarian Jennifer Latimer received a grant that will allow her to expand the list of environmental titles available to students there. Reading specialists Patricia Smith and Amanda Quinitchett received a grant to offer a specialized online reading program to 35 of their students. And Courtney DeVomecourt accepted a check for nearly $10,000 on behalf of a group of teachers districtwide; the money will go toward giving classrooms and teachers the tools they need to teach reading effectively in the lower grades.  

“This is so exciting,” DeVomecourt enthused at the check presentation, emphasizing that the money would help teachers in elementary schools across the district. “Thank you so much.” 

Achieve tapped Vanessa Pollock’s Music Initiative to buy two much-needed quarter-size basses for SOMS orchestra students. The purchase was special for the Pollocks as their oldest child, Hudson – who is now a professional musician — learned to play the bass at SOMS under William Cook, the orchestra teacher who applied for the money to buy the instruments. Achieve will also buy music stands for South Mountain students and music-writing white boards for Clinton musicians, while Achieve funds will allow CHS band director Peter Bauer to commission a new work for his percussion ensemble to play this spring.

The largest grant this cycle will enable the purchase of eight, award-winning read-aloud titles for every third, fourth and fifth grade classroom in the district. The titles, which will be selected by a group of teachers, will aim to promote discussion among students about the challenges they face, and to give them ideas and strategies for dealing with those challenges. 

Overall, projects vary widely in size and scope. Grant money will be used to purchase four new potting wheels at CHS as well as 16 35mm cameras for the photography class. There is money to build a high-interest library for ninth grade students at the high school, in hopes of enabling whole-class reads. Achieve also provided CHS counselors Kelly Murphy, Marcia Hicks and the team of ESL teachers $375 to buy breakfast for ESL students who come for early-morning tutoring and mentoring in the library. One grant will establish a hydroponics garden in the counseling center. SOMS social studies teacher Johanna Barnhart will buy a series of books to teach sixth graders civics, books that are meant to inspire them to create their own civic-minded project. And Maplewood Middle Schoolers will learn about African dance and get coached in Double-Dutch through an assembly with professional dancers. 

The wide variety of projects funded this year thrilled members of the grants committee. Committee co-chair Chritine Houseworth said “We were excited by the number of teachers who sought funding this year, and anticipate requests for funding to increase with the budget cuts that are anticipated for the coming school year.”  

Teachers are on board as well. Clinton teacher Mr. Mack joked that if there is money to be had, he has projects to make use of it: “I’ve got plenty of ideas,” he said with a laugh. 


The Achieve Foundation of South Orange & Maplewood is a registered 501(c)3 organization that promotes high-quality education that prepares South Orange-Maplewood School District students for the future. We support our students, families and educators by addressing inequities, inspiring innovation and fostering community. Since 1999, Achieve has invested over $4.5 million for programs that support public education in our two towns. To learn more, please visit


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