Florham Park Education Foundation (FPEF) was formed to give the students of the Florham Park school district to have the best possible education. Some organizations would focus on, and throw money at the students alone. But in many ways, that misses the point. The FPEF takes a top-down approach, providing resources to educators, so that these administrators and teachers can provide the best possible education to the students they serve.
This approach makes eminent sense. Our schools do the best they can, but are sometimes limited by school district budget constraints. The FPEF fills in the gaps by fulfilling educator grant requests. They know that it is the educators themselves, who have the best handle on what they need to better provide for a better education for their students.
It’s a novel approach that deserves a closer look. Educator grants may well be the answer to improving education in other towns and cities, far and wide. We put some questions to FPEF Business & Community Fund Development Chair Lisa Lynott, to learn more about the work of this our latest small grant recipient, the Florham Park Education Foundation:
Kars4Kids: Who founded the Florham Park Education Foundation, when was it founded, and why?
Lisa Lynott: Though the FPEF operates independently of the Board of Education and the school district, the creation of an Education Foundation in Florham Park was part of a strategic initiative of the school district in 2017. A small volunteer steering committee was formed in 2017 to research and plan, and the Foundation received its 501c3 in 2019. The purpose of the FPEF is to help bridge the gap between resources that can be provided within the school budget and the desire to bring additional innovative resources and educational programming into the classrooms. We achieve these goals through 1) our teacher grants program and 2) our curriculum/administrative grants program. The FPEF wants all students to have an exceptional educational experience facilitated by well-resourced educators. During COVID, we expanded our initiatives to include Community Care and support families with children in the district that are facing hardship. Community Care continues to play an important role as part of the FPEF.
Kars4Kids: The Florham Park Education Foundation offers support to “families with children who have fallen on difficult times.” What percentage of Florham Park families fall into this category? What type of support do you offer?
Lisa Lynott: At present we provide support to 1.3% of the school community. Many other families would likely benefit from the program. This is a totally confidential offering to assist with school supplies, food, tutoring, holiday gifts, assistance with finding temporary housing and more. To qualify, families must have students attending our public schools and they must reach out to us. Based on low-income housing statistics and financial downsides as a result of COVID more than 15% of our families could derive support in one capacity or another from these services. Pride and fear of being “outed” as a family in need is hard to break through. We are continually thinking of viable ways of encouraging families in need to reach out for help.
Kars4Kids: Teachers can apply to your foundation for classroom grants. Why are these grants necessary? Do public schools not provide an adequate education to our children?
Lisa Lynott: The teachers and district are doing a great job and the FPEF strives to support and elevate educational opportunities within the district. The foundation serves as a link between programs funded by tax dollars and the necessity for additional initiatives that inspire students. Our goal is to foster innovation by providing funding for teacher grants that improve teaching methods and enhance overall educational quality.
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about some of your 2023 classroom grants?
Lisa Lynott: We awarded 16 grants in the fall of 2023. Below are some of them:
Kars4Kids: What would you say is your favorite grant of all time since the foundation has been in operation?
Lisa Lynott: There are a ton of great ones, but one of my favorites has been 3-D pens which allow students to create sculptures and art in 3D. It helps to build upon the students’ knowledge of the principles of design while also expanding their understanding of new technologies. It’s also really exciting to watch these in action!
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about the outdoor classroom slated to debut in the spring at Ridgedale Middle School? Why do kids need an outdoor classroom? Wouldn’t being outside tend to distract children from their lessons?
Lisa Lynott: We are thrilled about the Outdoor Classroom project! This initiative aims to merge the conventional classroom with an interactive natural space, fostering a hands-on learning experience. Students will have the opportunity to actively engage with their environment, enhancing their environmental awareness. An additional benefit is that exposure to outdoor settings can alleviate stress levels, promoting a more relaxed and conducive learning environment. Students will also play a continuous role in contributing to the classroom, participating in activities like annual table painting and collaborating on the design and acquisition of landscape items and décor.
Kars4Kids: What can you tell us about the Briarwood Makerspace? Why did the foundation choose to fund this initiative?
Lisa Lynott: The Briarwood Makerspace had been on the school “wish list” for a while, but with competing priorities and other constraints, had not had its day in the sun. So, the school administration approached the FPEF. The idea was to take a section of the library used for storage of outdated and unused items and to create a space that a) had a Lego center, b) a STEAM challenge center and c) that would be used by every single student that walks through the doors of the school for many years. The FPEF was on board immediately.
The Makerspace benefits all students.
The seeds are planted for numerous foundational education and life skills. We were very happy to be a part of this initiative.
Kars4Kids: What percent of grant applications are accepted on an annual basis? What do you look for in a grant application?
Lisa Lynott: We accept and review 100% of all grant applications received. The number of grants awarded is dependent upon the amount of funds we have available in each of the two grant cycles and the number and value of the total grant applications submitted. In terms of percentage, we fund greater than 85% of the grant applications received each cycle.
In our review of applications, we appreciate all teachers providing responses to all questions in the application which informs us on how their grant will benefit the students in their class and/or their entire school community. We love to see grants that provide innovative programming, connection to community organizations, attend to student interests, expand opportunities beyond the classroom, and have a lasting impact over time, so many students can benefit.
Kars4Kids: The foundation offers periodic events for the community. Can you tell us about some of them? What are some of your upcoming events?
Lisa Lynott: We recently hosted our first annual Arts, Crafts and Music Festival which was a town-wide celebration with live musical performances, and arts and craft vendors. As part of the festival we had the band from the local high school perform, as well as the cheerleaders, and also hosted a K-12 art contest with the theme of Volunteerism. Many of the art submissions are now on display at the town public library! We also had a number of children’s activities throughout the day. It was a great day of the community coming together for shopping and fun.
We also host Community Conversations in partnership with the Florham Park Library. This is a book club which is centered on ways we can work together to make Florham Park a better place. Last year we focused on strengthening and maintaining connections between community organizations in Florham Park, which resulted in stronger partnerships between organizations. This year our theme is civic participation and volunteerism. Is it a great discussion that follows a dialog-to-action structure to encourage participants to work together toward a common cause.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Florham Park Education Foundation?
Lisa Lynott: In 2024 we’re celebrating our 5th anniversary! We’re so excited about what we’ve accomplished and what we have in store for the future. This year we’ll be launching a 7th grade grant, in which 7th graders can submit a proposal for a project that will make meaningful change or impact in the community. Funding for the project is up to $1000 and the winning student also receives a $500 scholarship. We’re excited to see the ideas that the students submit and get them excited about implementing the change they would like to see in their community.
We’ll also be hosting our second annual Arts, Crafts and Music festival in October of 2024, and we’re looking forward to growing that festival and continuing to garner community involvement.