Liz Guber and Gayle Wenchell, leaders of the nonprofit Wantagh Foundation for Educational Excellence, approached the microphone at the Wantagh Union Free School District Board of Education meeting last week to reintroduce the foundation to the community.
“A lot of people don’t know about the foundation and some of the great things we’ve done in the past,” Guber said, “and some of the programs we’re looking to do throughout the year.”
Guber detailed the nonprofit’s latest initiative, the Mini-Grant Teacher Program, aimed at providing Wantagh teachers with financial support for new instructional programs.
Since the board meeting, Guber said on Thursday that more than 50 teachers throughout the district’s five schools have submitted proposals for the grant program, and residents have made donations to the foundation. It is accepting applications for the mini-grant program until Oct. 31, and recipients will be announced in November.
The grant program helps teachers enhance their students’ classroom experience. “For example, if a science teacher wants to enhance a science unit by purchasing and using STEAM kits,” Guber said. “That’s something that we can do — they don’t have to think about the cost around it.”
While the foundation has earmarked a small amount for the program and local families have started to contribute, the nonprofit is seeking additional community contributions to continue to drive the program throughout the year. “The goal of this program is to provide continued support throughout the year,” Guber said, “and we’re hoping to get the support from our community to help fund and sustain that.”
To apply for the mini-grant program, an applicant must be a teacher, school administrator or other active employee of the district. According to the application page, the foundation is seeking projects that foster “joy and engagement in learning, culture of thinking, organization and procedures and positive thinking.”
This isn’t the first time the foundation has provided financial support to teachers. Two years ago, it distributed over $7,000 to teachers in grants for instruction, Wenchell, its executive director, explained.
The foundation aims to improve teachers’ curriculum within the boundaries of “what they cannot afford to do or are unable to do,” Wenchell said. She said that helping students is critical given recent district budget cuts.
Earlier this year, Wantagh school district residents initially rejected the proposed budget of roughly $83.5 million for the 2021-22 academic year. The district reduced the spending plan to $82.7 million, and it passed by an overwhelming margin in June.
“The budget has been cut so drastically, so anyone you spoke with always said, ‘Well you know, I have to buy a lot of things out of my own pocket,’” Wenchell said. “So if we can help that situation out at all, in some small way, that’s what we want to do. We’re here for the kids in the district.”
The foundation, which was created in 1993, is headquartered in a trailer on the Wantagh High campus that houses a computer lab and a meeting room. While many school board trustees and Foundation members have worked to build the program over the past 20 years, Guber said the organization slowed operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Members are now working to revitalize it.
Wenchell said that Guber, one of the foundation’s younger members, has taken the lead in promoting it in the community. “Liz brought in a sense of new,” Wenchell said. “We needed that young blood. She came in with some great ideas, and we voted and agreed.”
The foundation will work with the school district to ensure that the submissions line up with the district’s goals, Guber said. The winner of the first mini-grant will be announced next month.
District Superintendent John McNamara said the district was “thrilled” that the foundation was offering grants to instructional staff this year. “The grants will help support a wide range of instructional projects that members of the teaching staff are interested in pursuing,” McNamara said in an emailed statement. “We thank the Wantagh Foundation for their continued support of our students and staff.”
“I think we need something to bring our community together,” Guber said. “I think everyone loves our Wantagh teachers, and this is a good way to show our support as a community.”