Our Commitment to Our Students
These are challenging times for educators. School funding across the state and the nation continues to be a hot-button topic. Meanwhile our teachers need resources and our students always deserve the best possible education. With a 2% budget cap and many costs rising by 10% or more, how can districts stem the tide and continue to offer top notch student programming? One answer is through district partnerships. Like many communities, Metuchen residents truly value education, and are willing to provide assistance not only through annual taxes, but also by contributing when they can to the education of our students. The Parent-Teacher Council, the school PTOs, the Metuchen Education Foundation, the music parents, and the Booster Club are just a few of those generous, education supporters.
The Metuchen Education Foundation Inc. (MEF) is an independent, nonprofit corporation created in 1996 by a group of parents, local business people, and other professionals to raise funds and develop partnerships to enrich programs for students in the Metuchen Public Schools. This year’s Trustee Officers are: Rich DiBenedetto, President, Nancy Bernheimer, Vice President, Colleen Walker, Treasurer, and Mary Brosnan, Secretary.
The mission of the MEF is “to offer our public school educators the opportunity to enhance their regular curriculum by applying for grants for their innovative ideas that would otherwise not be available to the classroom. We are dedicated to encouraging educational excellence for all students in the Metuchen Public Schools.”
Some of the grant proposals that MEF has recently funding include: art display boards, school store inventory, DNA sequencing materials, Mud Run stations, Robotics Club start-up funds, a new marimba, funds for a new music sound system, makerspace materials, technology for a special education classroom, and funding for a grade four drama club and a grade two theatrical performance. In total, last year alone, over $40,000 was distributed. All of the money goes directly for the benefit of students.
John Messenger, music teacher at Metuchen High School, shared the following: “I have been writing MEF grants since 2001. In my tenure in Metuchen I have been very fortunate and honored to have been awarded many grants over the past eighteen years. These grants have been used for large and unique instrument purchases for both the marching and concert bands. They have included our entire marching percussion battery, two marching tubas, a soprano saxophone and an alto flute. Probably the most unique award was for our two marimbas. One marimba was purchased using money I was awarded through my first grant in 2001, and most recently, our newest marimba was also purchased using money from a grant I was awarded this past year. All the instruments have been used to benefit many young musicians throughout the years, and I am very proud when I see how excited students are when playing new and modern instruments. We are all very fortunate to have the support of an amazing and generous organization such as the MEF. I think it is what makes Metuchen such a special town.”
According to Katie McKeown, high school art teacher, “MEF does a great job of balancing authentic community assistance with the professionalism of a well-run business. Their website is user friendly, the application requirements clearly stated, and they are always willing to reach out for additional information to make as many applicants successful as possible. They take every grant request seriously and have implemented a system that puts both large and small funded grants within easy reach for every teacher in our district. They have given our educators the funding and support to pursue innovative and engaging teaching strategies and activities.”
Maryrose Little and Marilyn Lewis, Edgar Middle School teachers, were so grateful for their grant. “The MEF grant provided an opportunity for students to learn skills (knitting, crocheting, hand quilting) that are not part of the general curriculum, but are skills they can enjoy and expand upon through their lives. It provided another opportunity for students to be part of a group of their choosing, meet new friends who share a common interest, and develop a talent of which they can be proud. One particularly interesting outcome was a knitting "craze" that ensued at one point in the year - club members bought their own materials, brought them to school, and taught their friends to knit. The effect of the club extended beyond the membership. We are displaying some of the student work in Edgar's front hall showcase, and plan to do the same at Metuchen Public Library.”
Kathy Rice, middle school special education teacher and first-time grant recipient, said, “The grants chair, Anne Lackland, was a wonderful contact person to work with throughout my entire experience applying for my first MEF grant. She was knowledgeable and positive.”
Student feedback is also critical for MEF. They want to continue to support projects that positively impact students. At Edgar School, 83% of respondents replied they would continue to use the skills acquired in the club at home. Some student comments included: “It was really fun learning knitting and I think it was a good idea to have this club!” “The freedom to do a lot of different things, having my friends there, and a very stress-free, enjoyable environment.” “This is a really useful life skill!”
According to MEF President, Rich DiBenedetto, “We are committed to ensure that 100% of all monies raised fund projects that focus on education and the welfare of our youth. Working hand-in-hand with our members of our community, the Metuchen Education Foundation offers teachers the opportunity to enhance their regular curriculum by applying for grants for their innovative ideas that may otherwise not be available to their classroom.”
School administrators are responsible stewards of federal, state, and local monies that are designed to fund public schools. Along with our elected board of education, we try to ensure that as much money as possible is dedicated for student programs. With an ever-shrinking discretionary part of the budget, more and more, public schools benefit from partnerships like with the Metuchen Education Foundation. When the philosophy is to do what’s best for students, there are no better partners than the parents and the community members of those students. Thanks for the projects that have been supported and for the funding for future pilot programs!