For Ayer Shirley Schools, Foundation Offers Bridge to Funding
By Scott Shurtleff
AYER -- No matter how successful a school system is, there are always gaps that need to be filled. For the Ayer Shirley Regional School District that spackle is provided by the nonprofit Ayer Shirley Educational Foundation.
With an annual budget of about $40,000, ASEF converts community benevolence into tangible products for the four schools in the district plus local kindergartens. Money goes directly into the classrooms, toward specific projects or products, more than 350 successes in eight years.
“I love this program, I love those people,” said Fred Deppe, Page Hilltop Elementary School principal. “This is the first place I’ve ever been to where there is a community so devoted to the students.” Deppe cites in-school items like iPads, microscopes, fitness equipment and art supplies among the scores of out-of-budget implements that ASEF has brought directly into the students’ hands.
ASEF is a group of about 14 people. The ever-changing roster is composed of parents, headed by co-chairs Randy Clemence and Brenda Magno. Volunteers serve as a conduit between generous donors, mostly local businesses, and classroom teachers.
“Our donors are the reason we can do what we do,” said Magno. From Knox Plumbing to Main Street Bank, dozens of sponsors contribute annually.
Each town had its own support foundation; Ayer’s dating to 2004 and Shirley’s to 2007. When the school systems merged in 2011, “we also merged our organizations,” said Clemence. “It improved our resources by joining forces.”
Buoyed by perennial sponsors Bull Run Restaurant and All Star Sporting Goods, ASEF aspires to honor every grant request.
“If we can only fully fund one but not another, then we partially fund both,” said Magno. Whatever gaps remain in the funding for the smattering of wide-ranging projects including arts, STEM, life sciences, English language arts, and humanities, can be filled with supplemental donations from the PTO and from each school’s own budget.
The fall round of grants usually totals about $25,000, given to teachers. Some requests are as basic as needing transportation to museums and field trips to farms and climbing walls. In the spring, $10,000 is awarded as an Impact Grant to bring technology to desktops. Last year, 40 iPads arrived into second-grade classrooms at Page Hilltop.
The flagship is the LEGO Robotics programs, which is “huge,” said Deppe. More than 40 students take part. The program has evolved into competitive teams across several age groups, and spreads to the middle and high schools.
“Many of the kids in the high-school robotics got their start down here in LEGO Robotics. They even come back to mentor the younger students,” said program head Brian LaPointe. ASEF’s first grant, eight years ago, was $2,000 for used equipment. It has funded the program since.
ASEF also awards an annual scholarship to out-going Panthers who have demonstrated a commitment to community service and to academic success, plus $100 each to a chosen boy and girl eighth-grader. The five preschools in the district receive $3,000 annually to fund similar age-appropriate projects there.
“We are always looking for new members,” Magno said. “So that we can continue to transition as parents and students ‘age out’ of the system.”