Talent and Learning Go Hand in Hand at CCS

Among the many jewels that contribute to the beauty of the Chatham area are the talents of individuals who live, work, and learn here. As shown by projects in the Chatham schools, good things happen when forward-thinking educators join with talented members of the community to enhance the experience of learning for our children.

The origins of the Chatham Education Foundation, which provides support for many such projects, came from the creative thinking and financial contributions of a few local individuals. In just five years, the nearly $30,000 in grants that the foundation is awarding for the 2007–08 school year brings the total funding awarded so far to more than $100,000.

According to Bill Wolff, president of the foundation, “Each year we’ve been able to build on the outstanding projects of the previous year, and each year our contributions have grown. It has been a wonderful experience for all involved.”

The foundation includes two funds. Drawing on the exceptional talent right here in our own backyard, the Arts and Humanities Fund supports artists in residency, film and media projects, literacy work, student performances and publications, and more.

The Alexander M. White Fund supports excellence across all disciplines. This fund supports the district’s creation of an engineering preparatory curriculum in the high school as well as the Interplay program, which uses story telling and metaphor to promote intellectual and social growth for children in the early grades.

One major advantage of community foundation funding is the potential for fostering creative continuity from one year to the next. Last year, area artist Jacqueline Rogers, taught fourth graders how to paint like the early American portrait painters. This year, the school district’s five art teachers will broaden their own knowledge of American art through an in-service training day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in November. Plans include working with social studies, history, and music faculty in exposing students to early American culture and art throughout the school year.

Another project with threads connected to last year involves making and learning to play Nigerian Udu drums. In 2006, high school band students learned techniques and rhythms in playing the drum, along with African history and culture, from an area musician. In 2007, ceramics students will make the drums, music students will learn to play them, and younger students from MED will participate.

At the recent FilmColumbia film festival, the public had the opportunity to see the fruits of such projects for themselves. The two-minute spoof, Hairy Potter and the Flashlight of Fire, which was created, written, and shot by Chatham Middle School students under the direction of Chatham resident Regge Life, was shown as part of the Young Filmmakers Program.

The Chatham Education Foundation also believes in developing collaborative relationships with other area organizations and grantmakers. The Spencertown Academy Arts Center has partnered with the foundation in creating arts-in-education projects. These joint ventures have been supported by the T. Backer Fund, the Rheinstrom Hill Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Sidney and Beatrice Albert Foundation, among others.

Foundations like the Chatham Education Foundation, which exclusively support public schools, are emerging throughout the country. They give individuals who wish to benefit schoolchildren through charitable gifts a means to do so. Among the pioneers in this area, the Chatham Education Foundation is now assured of providing permanent assistance to the young people of our community.

Assets of the foundation now exceed $400,000 and are growing under the guidance and management of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. To make a tax-deductible donation to the Chatham Education Foundation, individuals should contact the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, 271 Main Street, Suite 3, Great Barrington, MA 01230; 413–528–8039.

A board of governors composed of Chatham residents, school officials, educators, and students oversees the raising of funds and awarding of grants. Area artists and others who feel excited about sharing more opportunities for learning in the Chatham schools are encouraged to request a grant application, due in March each year. To request an application, contact the District Office of the Chatham Central Schools, 392–2400.

The Chatham Press, November 2007

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