Rockville Centre Education Foundation gala to fund new classroom grants

Honorees, award winners named for annual fundraiser


Two months before the Rockville Centre Education Foundation hosts its annual gala to raise money for classroom grants in all seven of the district’s schools, teachers are beginning to think up new programs for next year.

Since 1991, the foundation has funded initiatives proposed by the district’s teachers and school administrators to expand educational opportunities. The gala, to be held on April 14 at the Cherry Valley Country Club in Garden City, is the primary source of funding for the programs.

The Education Foundation will honor Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley; Victor Lee, South Side Middle School’s library media specialist; and Viri Pettersen, who retired from the district last month after 25 years of teaching social studies.

Last year, the event raised about $51,000, which went toward funding over $68,000 in grants for programs and experiences — more than half of the $100,000 requested by roughly 30 teachers and administrators, according to the foundation president, Audra Cerruto. The group dipped into its savings to fund as many grants as possible, which Cerruto said was unprecedented.

“Some of them are $600 and others are $6,000,” Cerruto said of the grants. “…I always tell teachers they’re never too small or too big. Ask for things that you feel are going to make a difference in your classroom, and we’re going to do our best to raise the money to fund that.”

Melissa Rice, a fifth-grade teacher at Watson Elementary School, received $510 for “Humans of Watson,” an initiative based on “Humans of New York,” a photoblog and book of street portraits and interviews collected on the street of New York City by photographer Brandon Stanton.

She used the money to purchase several “Humans of New York” books, as well as tape recorders. Her students have walked around the school on their lunch periods, she said, looking for staff members to interview.

“They kind of just randomly strike up a conversation with somebody they find in the hallway,” Rice said, adding that they have interviewed the principal, a few teachers and a custodian. The interviews are published on Watson’s website.

“It can make any of your wishes come true,” Rice said of the grants. “… It gives you the ability to kind of veer out of your comfort zone and try something a little bit different and be able to access the materials that you need. They’re always so supportive and so enthusiastic, like cheerleaders.”

Trish Montemarano, a fellow Watson teacher, said she and Susan Kahan have written grants to the Education Foundation for the last 19 years, including school-wide grants like this year’s “The Power of Play” initiative.

The two are writing a grant proposal for the 2018-19 school year titled “A World of Exploration,” Montemarano said, and another teacher is working on a grant to introduce daily meditative techniques to her students to help them transition into the school day.

“Thanks to their generosity, they have funded many enriching and successful undertakings that positively impacted countless Watson students over the years,” Montemarano wrote to the Herald in an email.

Cerruto said school-wide grants are some of her favorites, as the foundation looks to impact the largest number of students as possible.

Nearly $11,000 was granted last year for Dash and Dot Robotics, Cerruto said, a program that started two years ago at Hewitt Elementary School in which students learn to make robots move, turn, light up and even say things through coding. Last year, the district’s four other elementary schools submitted a grant for it. “The idea was so good that we wanted to make sure that all the kids had access to it,” Cerruto said.

Chris Pellettieri, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the innovation lab used for coding and film production is a hit at the high school, as is the zSpace virtual reality lab. The Education Foundation has already earmarked $25,000 for the next school year to go toward a third year of funding the 3-D computers.

“The Education Foundation has been an incredible partner with the school district,” he said. “…It’s so wide-ranging.”