In a time when most news about education is related to highly controversial state-mandated standardized testing, one Huntington nonprofit seems too good to be true.
The Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education will reach $1 million in funded grants next year since its inception in June 1993, according to the foundation. HFEE is “dedicated to enhancing the quality of the Huntington public schools in education, the arts and athletics,” according to its mission statement. Its funding comes entirely from donations and 100 percent of that money goes back into the school district.
“We are very lucky to have had such concerned parents back in 1993 to have formed such an awesome organization,” Maria Cassar, co-president and board of directors member since 2004, said in an interview this week. “HFEE has donated so much to the district and has become an organization that teachers, parents and students can come to with great ideas for our school district,” she said.
“Teachers come to us with so much enthusiasm for special projects,” Cassar said. She mentioned a hydration water filling station and a cell culture lab at the high school as a couple of her favorite projects from recent years.
Some other grants listed on the foundation’s website include a freshwater ecosystem pond at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School last May and a donation to the school district’s athletic department that included a three-dimensional climbing wall, a defibrillator and a new shell (a boat used for crew) for the crew team in 2013.
In 2015, HFEE funded grants for a gem stonecutter at the high school, a 3D printer for J. Taylor Finley Middle School and other projects totaling more than $40,000.
Teachers in the Huntington school district understand how lucky they are to have a support system like HFEE that allows them to come forward with creative ideas that often receive funding.
“It’s huge,” Maryann Daly, an employee of the Huntington school district for 33 years, said about the support both financially and creatively that she receives from HFEE. She estimated that she has personally written about $60,000 worth of grants over the years. “It’s what the association between parents and teachers is all about,” she said.
Daly is the chairperson of the district’s SEARCH program, which stands for Scholastic Enrichment and Resource for Children in Huntington. The program is designed to provide hands-on group instruction for the most gifted and talented of the district’s students.
Daly’s job involves implementing a creative curriculum meant to enrich and supplement traditional education, so the assistance that she has received from HFEE and the ability to spread those creative and enriching ideas to the whole district is irreplaceable, she said. Daly said that her position forces her to “think outside the box,” and that is never an issue for HFEE.
One of Daly’s favorite grants was funded by HFEE in 2004. The $15,200 grant replaced the district’s old Starlab, or a portable planetarium, with a brand new one. Another program, which started in 2004 and continued through 2014, allowed fourth-grade students to receive two one-hour lessons from the New York Hall of Science in preparation for a standardized test.
“The Huntington Foundation is absolutely amazing,” Tracey McManus, a teacher at Jack Abrams and an employee of the district for 15 years, said in an email this week. “They have helped me incorporate such unbelievable experiences for my students.” McManus cited a grant for an incubator used to hatch ducks and a grant in 2014 for the pond where she later saw ducks swimming as a couple of her favorite projects funded by HFEE.
Brian Reynolds, an employee of the Huntington school district for 25 years and a current technology teacher at the high school, fondly remembered the “smile from ear to ear” on a student who won a car race on a track for CO2 cars in front of his entire lunch period. He said the boy was virtually skipping through the halls for days after. Reynolds said it was the first thing the boy ever won in his life.
“It is a very exciting year for the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education,” Cassar said, looking forward to the 2015-16 school year. “We are all so thrilled to pass the $1 million mark in what we have funded for the school district.”
The foundation offers a few different types of grants to teachers in the district for special classroom enhancement projects, in addition to one $1,000 scholarship for a graduating senior and one scholarship for a lucky sixth-grader interested in a three-day environmental camp, according to the HFEE website.
For more information or to donate to HFEE visit www.huntingtonfoundation.org.