MADISON, NJ – When the Madison Education Foundation was founded in 2003, its focus was on the high school and its curriculum. This is the first year its efforts have expanded from the high school to the junior school and elementary school.

Last year, the foundation awarded 45 grants for $86,000. Since 2003, over $400,000 has been contributed to programs in the Madison School District.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with the support,” MEF President Ann Hargrave said. “It’s so exciting to see how much the community recognizes the value of empowering teachers to inspire the kids.”
Hargrave emphasized the foundation’s purpose is exclusively on the curriculum and encouraging faculty to augment learning, to make it exciting for students. She added there are other groups that serve the district in different ways, such as the Booster Clubs for sports and the Producers Club for theatre. “Ours is about the kids and learning, but we collaborate with those groups,” she said.  

“With the cuts in budgets, we felt it was important to step in,” Hargrave explained. Grants are given in three cycles: fall, winter and spring. The board has a number of committees, including the grants committee, public relations and fund raising.
“We’re very conscious of our role as effective stewards of these donations,” she said. The grants committee makes sure the request fits into the curriculum and that the teacher has solid ways of implementing the program.  “They need to articulate the value added to the classroom or individual student,” she said. “Then we circulate back, to see how it worked out and look at any results that weren’t anticipated.” Sometimes, she said, the board is both pleased and surprised. 
Hargrave described a grant given for the special education area, a major donation in honor of a special ed teacher. The students received a learning tool that attracted faculty and students throughout the school, who wanted to see what was going on. “The morale for the kids was amazing,” she said. “It helped develop a collegiate atmosphere, where the special ed students really felt part of the community.”
Another unexpected result involved the high school library. The original grant request was for books, but the board asked, “Is this the right way to go?”  That question resulted in a brainstorming session with college and other high school librarians in the area. “What is the library of the future? And that was answered by faculty,” she said. As a result, the request came back to the foundation for about 20/% books, with the remainder going to electronic references and other media.
Some grants are for pilot programs, such as nooks instead of books at the high school. “We wanted to know how it’s being applied within the high school,” she said. Although the electronic books may be cost effective and weigh less, they involve a different way of working and learning. Madison high School coordinated with Barnes and Noble and three other school districts on pricing. “This is an issue in our schools,” Hargrave said, referring to the internet access that can easily turn into checking facebook and other social networks.
Hargrave has spent six years on the board, but said she does not see herself as the “face” of the organization. “So many people contribute in so many ways,” she said.  The foundation receives some corporate support as well, especially for the 5K Run in the spring, that engages local merchants and businesses.
Ideas can come from any direction. For instance, she said, one board member was doing jury duty, when she saw that document cameras were being used and were far more effective than the traditional overhead projectors. “We need them in our schools,” the member said and that turned into a teacher request. Students can now share articles and all sorts of information quickly and conveniently.
Hargrave said the foundation does not make formal presentations to the Board of Education, but an individual teacher may come before the board to explain a grant, such as the Robotics Club and the kits used by students.
Next steps for the Madison Education Foundation include coordinating with other education foundations in the area, to exchange ideas and share methodologies.
Winter Magic, an upcoming fundraiser event is scheduled for 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at Lenfall Hall on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson. Donations can be sent to Madison Education Foundation, P.O. Box 1093, Madison, NJ 07940.