From The Achieve Foundation of South Orange & Maplewood:
The Achieve Foundation made their rounds to hand out big checks to 2022-2023 Deborah Prinz Educator grant recipients. Achieve is providing over $37,000 to 15 South Orange & Maplewood District (SOMSD) teachers and staff for programs, events and initiatives focusing on cultural experiences, climate education, career development, STEM, civic engagement and literature. See a full list here. This round of grants, named to honor Achieve’s founder upon her retirement in 2018, will serve thousands of children in the school district. Together with the educator grants provided in the fall, Achieve has funded $114,476 in grants this academic year.
Eileen Collins Neri, Achieve’s Executive Director summed it up nicely, “With these recent awards, Achieve was proud to support programs in a variety of areas including SEL, Special Ed and STEM, but many of the requests and almost half of the funding in this round went to grants for projects that celebrate and educate students about cultural identity and diversity.”
The Foundation gave nearly $11,000 toward cultural initiatives. Achieve was very pleased to have Xueyin Li, ChiaChi Chiang, Jennifer Lezzi and Liping Meng, the Chinese language teachers from South Orange Middle, Maplewood Middle, and Columbia High Schools apply together for funding so that the Chinese classes and the Asian Cultural Clubs could decorate a hallway in each school for Lunar New Year, give and receive the traditional red envelopes, and teach the students to perform the dragon dance and Tai chi at different ceremonies through the winter and spring. Xueyin Li told us, “We applied for the grant to offer students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the traditional Asian festival celebrations, and to open the doors of cultural diversity for students, allowing them to discover and embrace the beauty and richness of Asian culture.”
Other cultural events funded by Achieve in this cycle went to teachers at Maplewood Middle School and Seth Boyden. At MMS, the MLK Club will bring in an artist in residence to teach Step and Double Dutch which will culminate in an all school assembly to celebrate Juneteenth. There will also be a Black History Month Assembly at MMS to honor the history and achievements of African Americans through dance. And at Seth Boyden, 4th graders will visit Seton Hall. There they will meet members of the historically Black Greek-Letter organizations, tour the campus, and attend a Step performance as the capstone to their stepping residency in the fall.
Two grantees will use their awards to build community and students’ understanding of a citizen’s civic responsibility. At South Orange Middle (SOMS), a self-contained special education class will go out into the community to practice their social and functional skills by riding transportation and making purchases. Fourth grade students from Seth Boyden will travel to Trenton to see democracy in action by visiting NJ Statehouse.
Close to $3,500 will go to environmental projects. Five teachers at SOMS will use funds from Achieve, the HSA and other local organizations to restore the courtyard and green areas at the school so they can be used as performing spaces, outdoor classrooms, social-emotional wellness hubs, and for hands-on learning about the ecosystem. At MMS, Christine Kleinwaks’ vertical farming project will produce lettuce that the students involved can take home. Research shows this type of project also improves the mental and physical health of those who take part. Another social-emotional health grant was given to CHS Student Assistance Coordinator, Dorota Martinez, who will use the grant money to make her office into a therapeutic safe space to welcome and calm students in crisis.
Columbia Film/Animation teacher Paul Marigliano received funding for his students to participate in the Garden State Film Festival Career Day, another career day at UArts of Philadelphia, and a visit by the NJ Film Commission Associate Director to talk with students about film and television in New Jersey.
Funding was also given to purchase new cellos for MMS, diverse and culturally relevant nonfiction books for SOMS, decodable books for Seth Boyden, design challenges for SOMS 6th grade students at the Buehler Challenger Center, and the paid subscription of IXL program for a special education class at SOMS.
Achieve is proud of the strong relationships that have been forged with the SOMSD senior leadership team. This collaboration has led to identifying project requests that fit the goals and the criteria of the District, and resulted in $18,000 of requests being covered by available funds to appropriate SOMSD budget lines.
Programs like Achieve grants, Volunteer Tutoring Program, Maker Madness, and support of Arts education are made possible by generous donors and sponsors. Achieve’s next fundraising event is Mardi Gras in SOMA on Saturday, March 4th at The Woodland. All (adults 21+ please) are welcome to “Achieve With Us” as we gather in person with great food & drink, festive decor and Cajun music courtesy of Big Mamou. Tickets are on sale now!
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 achievefoundation.org.