Education Foundation Delivers $33,408 to Kalispell Classrooms

The Kalispell Education Foundation traveled around the Kalispell School District this week to surprise teachers and fulfill their classroom wishes

By Denali Sagner
Cornelius Hedges Elementary School students hold a check from the Kalispell Education Foundation for new instruments for music instructor Madeline Gargasz’s class on Nov. 15, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Giant check in hand, the Kalispell Education Foundation this week visited 11 schools in Kalispell to deliver long-awaited grants to classroom teachers.

Through its annual Great Opportunity Grants program, the foundation awarded 19 grants across the Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) this fall, amounting to a total of $33,408.36.

Over the course of two days, Kalispell Education Foundation Executive Director Dorothy Drury, alongside members of her board, traveled across the city of Kalispell, awarding funds to teachers for everything from a new John Deere S350 Mower-Conditioner at the Kalispell Agricultural Education Center to reading comprehension tools at Elrod Elementary School.

The Kalispell Education Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that raises funds for KPS and supports Kalispell’s educators through grants and teacher appreciation programs. While the majority of the KPS budget is funded through local, state and federal dollars, gaps remain when it comes to fully subsidizing music, arts, athletics, technology, safety supplies and other classroom tools that may fall outside of traditional funding structures. Though many of these materials and programs have historically been covered by local property tax levies, the failure of such school levies in Kalispell in recent months has put additional pressure on teachers and further strained limited budgets.

“This is something that we need to figure out as a community, how to support our kids, whether that’s through the education foundation or through levy dollars,” Drury said during a visit to Peterson Elementary School on Wednesday. “We would love for those levy dollars to make it work, but if they aren’t going to make it work, if our community can’t show up for our kids in that way, then I think there are other individuals in the community who might.” 

At Peterson Elementary School, Drury presented a check for $3,000 to school counselor Ally Jones, who asked the foundation to help her purchase MooZoom, an online platform that teaches foundational social and emotional skills to elementary school students.

In her grant application, Jones wrote that recent efforts at Peterson to create a structure for social-emotional learning have changed “our school environment significantly for the better,” as students learn proper tools to identify and cope with their emotions, solve problems and take care of themselves. With MooZoom, Jones and Peterson’s team of educators will be able to cement social and emotional learning into the everyday curriculum through interactive tools.

Peterson Elementary School counselor Ally Jones demonstrates social emotional learning software called “Moozoom” on Nov. 15, 2023. A Kalispell Education Foundation grant will pay for continued use of the software. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“It gives them skills,” Jones said, walking Drury and foundation board members Lynn Dykstra and Carol Santa through the computer program. “We’re just excited to be able to give them more tools every day, so we can use it in my classroom and in other classrooms.”

“We’re just so grateful for everything you do for your students,” Drury told Jones.

At Cornelius Hedges Elementary School, the foundation presented music teacher Madeline Gargasz with $2,000 to purchase new drums for her classroom.

In Gargasz’s application, the music teacher explained that drums teach a range of physical, cognitive and musical skills, helping students develop hand-eye coordination, learn to read music and understand the various cultures that employ drumming. In her classroom right now, Gargasz does not have enough drums for every student to play at once, making it difficult to teach a cohesive lesson. The instruments are pricey, though, and typically fall far beyond Gargasz’s classroom budget.

With the $2,000 check from the Kalispell Education Foundation, Gargasz will be able to purchase 8-10 lightly used drums to add to her classroom.

Cornelius Hedges Elementary School students hold a check from the Kalispell Education Foundation for new instruments for music instructor Madeline Gargasz’s class on Nov. 15, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In addition to the grants awarded to Jones and Gargasz, the following teachers received Great Opportunity Grants from the foundation:

Edgerton Elementary School fifth grade teacher Amber Carpenter received $550 to bring bracelet making into her classroom. Carpenter told the foundation that in addition to helping students manage stress and improve self esteem, bracelet making can engage students who may struggle to pay attention in class or enjoy school.

Edgerton Elementary School third grade teacher Alexis Gilbert received $1,857.69 to purchase dice and card games to help build math fluency. In her application, Gilbert wrote that games are a “highly effective method for improving math fluency,” an important skill set to target to help set students up for success in middle and high school.

Kalispell Middle School social studies teacher Kris Schreiner received $1,639.33 to purchase gold panning supplies to teach the history of mining in Montana. Schreiner hopes to continue this hands-on activity that helps students understand local history while engaging them in a “multi-sensory opportunity.”

Rankin Elementary School music teacher Lief Erickson received $2,000 to purchase six new instruments for Rankin’s music classroom. Erickson said that students at Rankin — the newest elementary school in the KPS system — are losing interest in music due to a lack of instruments in the classroom. Erickson hopes students can play instruments every day when they come to music class.    

Flathead High School music teacher Eric Holdhusen received $1,953.58 to purchase instruments for the new Flathead Folk Band, the only high school folk band in the state of Montana. According to Holdhusen, the folk band gives students who may not traditionally be drawn to music class an opportunity to gain proficiency at an instrument and learn valuable skills.

Linderman Education Center special education teacher Brynn Cadigan received $683.25 for materials to help teach students in ASPIRE, Linderman’s special education program. Materials purchased through the grant will be used to teach fractions, decimals and measuring, cooking, sewing and other life skills.

A hallway and classroom in Cornelius Hedges Elementary School in Kalispell on Nov. 15, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Flathead High School English teacher Luke Johnson received $536 to purchase 30 copies of “The Boxer” by Reinhard Kiest, a graphic novel about a German Jewish man who learns to box during the rise of the Nazis. Johnson told the foundation that “The Boxer” will provide English IB students with challenging, thought-provoking content that is still appropriate for a high school audience.

Elrod Elementary School fifth grade teacher Kara Basko received $2,000 to create trunks of science and social studies supplies to be used across Kalispell’s elementary schools. In her application, Basko wrote that no science or social studies curriculum has been adopted for third graders in about 20 years, and that purchasing supplies to help teach the topics will standardize learning across the district. 

Flathead High School special education teacher Danielle Craver received $1,600 to purchase new kitchen equipment for the high school’s special education Life Skills classes. Craver requested funds to purchase small appliances and adaptive equipment to help students develop key skills in the kitchen for independent living.  

Agricultural Education Center teacher Brian Bay received $2,000 to purchase a new John Deere S350 Mower-Conditioner. The Ag Center’s current mower-conditioner is worn out and in need of replacement, and, according to Bay, the machine is crucial in growing and harvesting hay, an important part of the curriculum at the Ag Center.

Glacier High School English teacher Chris Adamcyk received $1,965.41 to purchase supplies such as fly-fishing flies and “Rite in the Rain” journals for the high school’s outdoor education program. The materials requested by Adamcyk will help bring to life the hands-on, cross-curricular course that engages students in project-based outdoor learning.

Glacier High School science teacher Sarah Conner received $2,000 to purchase supplies for the high school’s first-ever science fair. The grant funding will go towards science equipment and supply needs as students create their own fair poster and a recorded video of their project. Conner told the foundation that the project “will engage students in asking a question, researching, creating a hypothesis, running an experiment, and analyzing their results.”

Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Nov. 4, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Elrod Elementary School physical education teacher Woody Carr received $1,994 to purchase a climbing wall for the school. Carr wrote in his application that the climbing wall will help students build their upper body strength and endurance while exposing them to an activity they might not otherwise have the chance to participate in.

Elrod Elementary School second grade teacher Ryan Streiff received $1,800 to purchase “Pop Its,” rubber toys with letters on them that students can snap together to create words and sounds. The phonemic awareness tools will help engage students as they learn how to make words, move around letters and become familiar with the sounds of each letter.

Kalispell Middle School science teacher Collin Kazmier received $2,000 to bring “controlled, safe, and exciting explosions” into his science classroom to help teach students about pressure, temperature and volume of gases. Students will be able to create an explosion of their choice or dissect a firework, which Kazmier in his application said “will not only cement the concepts and principals of explosions but will also change the way that they view science.”

Flathead High School art teacher Josh Mohler received $2,000 to fund a new art printmaking class. While the high school received a printing press years ago, it has seen little use due to a lack of supplies. With the grant funding, Mohler will be able to teach a printmaking course to students, expanding Flathead High School’s art offerings and engaging students in new types of creative expression.

Russell Elementary School music teacher Zach Maurer received $1,829.10 to purchase keyboards for the school. Maurer said that students have repeatedly expressed interest in learning more about the piano, but that it’s difficult to teach to multiple students with only one instrument. With multiple keyboards, Maurer will be able to make the piano accessible to more students and teach them musical and cognitive skills.

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