The first fundraiser was a wine tasting at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When the school year closed out a few years ago, reading specialist Julie Pellerin-Herrera didn't feel like she was done teaching.
But, there was no funding set aside in the school's budget for ongoing tutoring over the summer.
"It was two and a half years ago, after a year of being a reading specialist and working with small groups, at the end of the year I thought to myself, 'I want to still work with these kids during the summer. I wish we could get organizations to sponsor these kids so we can get reading specialists to tutor them,'" Pellerin-Herrera said.
And then, "I noticed there are education foundations for public school systems throughout the county. That's what we need. We need a container of money that is available for sponsoring tutors and teachers who want to do it."
So that is exactly what she sought to create. She proposed the idea to her colleague Kimberlee Chappell and the two recruited other staff members and formed the Pittsfield Education Foundation.
"We are educators ourselves. Being reading specialists we wanted to support students' enrichment in literacy and students who are struggling. There was a lack of funding through the public education sector to support tutoring," Chappell said.
The group started with an eye toward tutoring programs but over time expanded its goals. Now the non-profit organization will raise a pool of money and accept grants requests from teachers in all fields who want to do more. It will support teachers who want to try new things to support their students.
"It doesn't have to be teachers writing grants. It can be students writing grants for something they want. It can be professional development," Chappell said.
Pellerin-Herrera said the grants can be for any subjects, for enrichment programs, tutoring, academies, or for teachers to get extra training. It can be art or theater, anything that will fit the organization's goals of "student support, student enrichment, and professional development."
"Those are the prongs that will ignite the fire," Pellerin-Herrera said. "We want to ignite the creative, innovative passion for teaching and learning."
The first major fundraiser was held Friday night at the Berkshire Hills Country Club. It was a wine tasting that brought numerous community members in support. That money will then go back to the foundation for the grants.
School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said the organization will be a great "adjunct" to city's education because the non-profit will provide fundings for items that the district as a whole won't.
"It is absolutely going to help us. There are certain things we can't provide. It is not your regular curriculum," Yon said.
The School Department just recently revamped both its math and reading curriculum. Yon said the district can only go in so many different directions with the funding it has. There isn't much of a chance the district could purchase new material to pilot new ideas at this moment.
"Teachers are creative every single day. But if there are some new, different, innovative techniques they wanted to try where they needed new materials, we're probably not in a position right now to say, 'OK, let's get some pilot materials,'" Yon said.
The organizers were pleased with the number of people who attended Friday's event.
The Pittsfield Education Foundation provides another avenue for teachers to seek support for their ideas.
"They would have more opportunities to do these things, and judge these things as opposed to now," Yon said.
Chappell said with professional development, the district does support that on some level now. But there are also bigger ticket conferences that an individual teacher could benefit from the district doesn't support.
"The International Literacy Association puts on a huge literacy conference. But it is really expensive. For a teacher to go, it is thousands of dollars. So, they'll fund professional development through the district but if you want to go on something like that, that is out of your own pocket," Chappell said.
"They used to be able to [fund that] because we had a larger pot to draw from but funding has been cut as our population in the area has diminished. So we are trying to create another pot to draw from so they can still have these opportunities and not necessarily have to pay out of pocket."
The first fundraiser attracted much attention and the organization is already thinking about other types of events. From here, the group will look to recruit more board members.
"One of our major next steps is to build a board. We need board members who have that authentic desire to do the same thing," Pellerin-Herrera said.
And from Yon's perspective, that the staff members would spend their time outside of the classroom organizing and fundraising to further help students says a lot.
"I think this tells you exactly how dedicated they are to education. They have their eye on the children and they want to do the very best they can for the children. They are willing to do whatever is necessary to help out education in the city of Pittsfield," Yon said. "I think it is terrific."
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