By Henry M. Holden
Founded in 2009, the Randolph Education Foundation (REF) was inspired by the idea that together, families, schools, and the local community, shape the education of its children. Since its founding, the REF has worked with the community to support innovative programs and aid to students in need in the Randolph schools. The REF has donated more than $300,000 to the Randolph Township School District in the form of grants, support to specific projects, and assistance to students.
“The way we see it, we have three pillars of support,” said Paola Heinke, the new president-elect of REF. “The first pillar is Innovation. The innovation applies to all students. We want them to try and experiment with new things. We want people not to be afraid of trying something. We teach if you have an idea give it a try and see if it works. That is good for all students and teachers regardless of their background.”
The second pillar is the School Readiness Component which addresses students in need.
“We have several kinds of assistance. One of them is gift cards. I got a note from a single mom which still makes me tear up when I read it. She said if it wasn’t for the gift card, she would not have had any gifts to give to her girls on Christmas Day.”
“The Second Pair of Jeans program is a grassroots initiative that enables students with financial needs in our district to come to school ready to learn. Over the last 10 years we’ve provided more than $50,000 in gift cards to students in need during the holiday season.”
The third pillar is Community Building. “Every year we have events that brings the community together. One is our Rock Star celebration and we co-host it with the Randolph Rotary. We select a person of the year to be the Randolph Rock Star for that year. It honors teachers of the year, and other community members who support education in Randolph. It is a great opportunity to celebrate students, teachers and community members who make a difference in the lives of Randolph youth.”
Each year the REF hosts the “5K Rock N Run for Empanadas”. This year, on June 15, the event that commemorated the tenth-anniversary of the REF drew 534 runners/walkers and raised more than $26,000 to support the REF programs.
Since its inception in 2003, the Next Practices Grant Program (NPG) has supported more than a dozen projects all to enhance the student’s learning experience.
The NPG program funds up to $10,000 each year in fresh ideas proposed by teachers and staff members who want to explore nontraditional, innovative ways to teach and learn. All the proposals undergo a thorough blind evaluation process by a Selection Committee appointed by the REF.
Cara Gilligan, Eighth Grade Science Teacher from Randolph Middle School (RMS), and Kristen Miller, Second Grade Teacher from Center Grove Elementary School, were the recipients of a Next Practices Grant. These grants provide second through eighth graders the opportunity to learn through innovative, hands-on experiences inside and outside of the classroom.
Clean Water Anyone? and Trout in the Classroom, are projects implemented two years ago due to a generous NPG grant. “It enabled students to further their understanding of water quality in their township and county,” said Gilligan. “This grant will enhance our students’ ability to make real life connections with their local ecosystems as well as develop their skills to use lab equipment prior to entering high school.”
Gilligan’s proposal, “Trout in the Classroom,” received $1,210 to offer more than 400 eighth graders in RMS the opportunity to learn about the importance of cold water conservation, through a science-based program focused in the process of raising Brook Trout, the official state fish of New Jersey, from eggs to fingerling size for release.
“As students witness and study the growth of the trout, they will work to identify a clean, safe cold-water source in Randolph Township to release the trout in the spring,” said Gilligan. “This year-long project incorporates many areas of learning and will develop student, team and teacher relationships as all involved work towards a common goal.”
This year, the REF awarded two one-year scholarships of $1,500 each to high school seniors who are in the first generation of their family to pursue post-secondary education.
In honor of the Randolph Education Foundation’s 10th Anniversary, five one-time scholarships were offered by the Dr. Anthony Fusco family to encourage and support students who are pursuing a degree in a health-related field such as Medicine, Dentistry, or Nursing. The scholarship will pay up to $1,000 after all other financial aid and scholarship awards are considered.
In addition, a one-time scholarship was offered by Douglas Electrical Components to encourage and support students who are pursuing a degree in engineering at a 4-year college or university. The scholarship will pay up to $5,000 after all other financial aid and scholarship awards are considered.
Caption: REF 1 -Some of the 534 runners/walkers on their way to the finish line. (Credit Ela Ravin)
Ref 2Two students releasing trout into the wild as part of the Trout in the Classroom project. (Credit Randolph Education Foundation)