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Butte Education Foundation

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The Butte Education Foundation recently announced its fall “Great Ideas Grant Program” recipients.

About 10 years ago, the education foundation 501(c) (3) began the grant program, designed to help teachers and schools implement innovative projects that are outside of their normal funding capacities.

This year, six innovations throughout the district were funded, from wobbly chairs for first-graders to virtual reality headsets for East Middle School.

“We look to fund ideas that are a little bit different, or new products that aren’t in the set curriculum,” said Susanne Dauenhauer, president of the Butte Education Foundation.

Dauenhauer said since the foundation formed around 2005, its primary goal has been to promote public education through this grant program. Every year, the foundation hosts a few small events and one large fundraiser for the biannual grants.

First it was a traditional dinner and silent auction, then an adult spelling bee. Now for the second year, the fundraiser will be an adult “name that tune” game-show like event, Dauenhauer said, where contestants have to guess what song they are listening to after hearing a short snippet.

Part of the money collected is put toward both fall and spring grant awards, along with the foundation’s other sponsored programs. Dauenhauer said a one-person applicant can earn up to $1,000 for his or her idea and a group can earn up to $3,000.

The foundation has donated over $150,000 over the years to projects including the greenhouse at Butte High School, the “One Book, One Community,” program at East Middle School and digital historical tour capabilities for high school history teacher Chris Fisk’s students.

Three teachers at East Middle School were one of the group awardees in this fall’s batch of grants. Kacey Queer, Rochelle Ryan and Karen Alley received $2,000 to share 15 virtual reality headsets between their social studies and science classrooms. But Alley said the headsets will be available for any East classroom that would like to use them.

“The educational programs will focus on things students can’t observe themselves so they can have that experience,” Alley said.

Some of the Oculus-brand virtual reality programs the teachers plan to utilize are related to space, plate tectonics and battle re-enactments.

Alley also said the headsets will give students access to BBC programs, flyovers of the Grand Canyon or the Titanic wreckage, and even allow for virtual dissections. The East teachers hope to have the headsets by January.

About six miles south, another school received funding for a much different purpose.

Principal Jennifer Luoma at Margaret Leary Elementary School was another fall grant awardee. She received $450 to start a Butte branch of a national program that brings dads, grandfathers, uncles and other father figures into the school to provide positive male role models for students.

“Parents are very involved at home, but there isn’t always a way for them to be involved at school,” Luoma said. “This program is that way.”

The program, called WATCH D.O.G.S. or Dads of Great Students, started in Arkansas in 1998. Since then, over 6,450 schools in the U.S. have launched local programs.

Most caregivers and single parents are women, Luoma said, which is why she and her staff want to bring in this program — it introduces kids to positive male role models. But after doing some research, she realized she’d need to complete a webinar and actually purchase the program from the national organization.

Now that she has the money for that purchase, she plans to get the program rolling by early next year.

According to Luoma, Butte’s program will start with a pizza party for dads, uncles, grandpas or other father figures to sign up. Then once the men are confirmed, they will receive Watch D.O.G.S. T-shirts and be invited to help out at Margaret Leary. Luoma said possible activities include spending time on the playground, reading with students, eating lunch in the cafeteria and more.

“This will be a great addition to our school,” Luoma said. “Through the program, fathers will be able to gain greater awareness of the positive impact they can have on a student’s life.”

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