2014-12-05 / Community

Foundation focused on next 10 years

Founder of Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel reflects on past, future
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK – Less than a decade after it was founded, members of the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel are aiming to make the organization a household name.

Education foundations started popping up in Maine about a decade ago, said Ted Damon, founder of the local education foundation. Damon retired from the Singer Corporation when he moved to Kennebunk 16 years ago, but he said, “I’ve always been interested in education.”

Thirty years after Damon graduated college, he earned his master’s degree in counseling, and has the most experience with teenagers.

When he arrived in Kennebunk, Damon asked Kennebunk High School Principal Sue Cressey if he could observe a freshman science class for one year. He would complete the readings and participate in class discussion just as the students were required to do.

What he found during his time as a student was a “very uninteresting program. I was very impressed with how uninterested the kids were,” Damon said.

Equipped with the thinking that students retain information and develop enthusiasm toward learning as long as they are engaged, Damon began forming the idea of an education foundation.

The experience inspired Damon’s vision to provide students with engaging tools, trips and programs.

“When they are engaged, they learn,” Damon said.

Damon sought input and advice from other nearby education foundations, specifically Cape Elizabeth’s. He approached teachers and parents about what could be provided for students if expense wasn’t an issue. Many of those parents became board members when the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks was formally established as a 501c (3) in 2006.

The premise of education foundations is similar in that they are independent organizations that grant money to provide classroom tools and activities that otherwise would not be covered in the district’s budget.

The Regional School Unit 21 education foundation is tailored to the district’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for example, so many of the education foundation’s grants are given to STEM-related programs.

The grant process works like this: teachers come up with “creative, innovative ideas that the regular budget won’t cover,” said Amanda Murray, chairman of the education foundation’s grant committee. The grant proposal needs approval from the principal and superintendent before the grant committee receives the application. If the committee approves the grant, the application goes before the 18-member board for approval.

Since its inception, the education foundation has provided more than $737,000 to the district. Typically, the board distributes one grant per month (between 20 and 30 each year). In addition to monetary donations made by individuals and corporations like Corning, Inc., the education foundation holds three annual fundraisers. Recurring fundraisers include the Catch the Wave gala at the Nonantum Resort, a call-a-thon and a golf tournament at Webhannet Golf Club.

Whether parents realize it or not, Damon said, their children have very likely participated in an activity or program that was funded, at least in part, by the education foundation.

On the elementary level, the education foundation has provided Mildred L. Day School library with at least $4,000 in new books and professional support to enhance curriculum. Middle School of the Kennebunks hosts an artist-in-resident who teaches students about a specialized art form. Sea Road School received $3,000 worth of Lego robotics kits. Other activities funded by the education foundation include a trip to Heartwood College of Art for fifthgraders, who enjoyed a week of training and exposure.

The district also splits the difference with the education foundation each fall to send all sixth-graders to a weeklong leadership training session at Camp Kieve.

“The things they learn at Kieve in a short week are very fundamental life things – team-building and relationships and risk-taking,” Damon said. After seeing how much students grow in such a short time, the education foundation decided last year to begin funding an in-house educator-inresidence from Camp Kieve. The person interacts with sixth-, seventh- and eighthgrade students.

“Last year they came for seven weeks, this year they’re coming for 10, starting in the spring,” Damon said.

The educator-in-residence exposes students to themes and atmospheres similar to the ones created at Kieve. “Teaching, gam- playing, risk-taking activities that extend to all of the basic ideas that come from Camp Kieve, to further instill them,” Damon said.

In addition to funding student activities, 25 percent of the overall funding is given to professional education for teachers throughout the district. From smaller donations of $450 annually to send one teacher from Kennebunkport Consolidated School to the American School Counselor Association, to larger expenditures such as sending five teachers to the Learning and the Brain conference each year in Boston.

“They’re learning about what’s new in education, really. It’s a three-day weekend seminar and they are exposed to a wide variety of workshop opportunities – highly energizing kinds of activities. It’s part of our effort to encourage the continuing education,” Damon said.

The objective for many of the annual programs funded by the education foundation is to provide grant money for a few years, at which point the district will hopefully see the worth and include the expenditure in the annual budget. “Some of our greatest successes have been things that we’ve funded and that schools have taken them on and included them in the budget,” said Jackie Teguis, communications coordinator for the foundation.

“We want families to know that we’re here, too,” Teguis said. “Our mission is to work with all six schools and to inspire and ignite young minds. We do that by funding creative and innovative programs, professional development, enhancing the academic excellence that’s already in place, to bring in creative programming, things that are really going to engage kids in a new way.”

The education foundation serves to equip students with skills that can apply to all content areas, in addition to knowledge, Teguis said.

“We are interested in reality, innovationtype of things. (The schools) teach a lot of knowledge; we’re focused more on creativity as a skill and not so much on the content,” Damon said. “What ties it together is the opportunity for kids to practice being creative – that’s not a central feature of school systems, but it is a central feature of our enhancement of school activities.”

Said Damon, “We aren’t limited to the content of a typical school system; we don’t care about the knowledge like the system does, we care about the skill of the creativity: how do you solve this issue? How do you deal with whatever’s in front of you? We see that as a lifetime skill that won’t go away, it’ll only get better.”

For more information on the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel, visit www.educationfoundationka.org.

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