PIE delivers for Island kids

Preschoolers at Chautauqua kneel on an alphabet carpet purchased with PIE funds.  - Courtesy photo
Preschoolers at Chautauqua kneel on an alphabet carpet purchased with PIE funds.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

What do Lego robotics kits, a comfy carpet covered in letters and a cell microscope projector have in common? They’re all housed in classrooms on Vashon and used by Island students, thanks to Partners in Education, or PIE, which awards mini-grants each year to teachers for enriching the classroom experience.

PIE has doled out thousands of grant dollars each year for more than 20 years and filled the classrooms of Vashon’s three public schools with items small and large that teachers would otherwise go without.

Especially in today’s difficult economic times, when education budgets are being cut across the state and country, support from private foundations like PIE can pay not only for luxuries, but for some basics as well, said Bob Hennessey, Vashon Island School District board chair.

“PIE does tremendous things,” he said. “The district tries to do what it can, but PIE does an amazing job of filling in gaps for things teachers need to do their jobs. ... I’d like to tell you we’d find a way to get those things otherwise, but the reality is we wouldn’t.”

PIE is a volunteer-run nonprofit dedicated to awarding mini-grants each year to teachers and administrators for classroom materials and events.

Its goal, said Janet Baron, this year’s president and a former fifth-grade teacher, “is to enhance the learning environment in Vashon public schools.”

The organization, she added, is committed to funding teachers’ “creative ways to get their subject matter across, ways that aren’t always provided in the basic curriculum.”

Bill Ameling, PIE’s first president, described the nonprofit as “a booster club for academics.”

“The basic idea is to get creative or exciting stuff in these schools that doesn’t come through the normal budgeting,” he said. “It’s a bunch of small things. Look at all the things PIE has paid for, and it’s really an eclectic mix, and all these requests come straight from the teachers.”

Each year, teachers apply for PIE grants, and the nonprofit doles out as much money as it can, based mostly on the amount its annual phonathon pulled in that fall. PIE volunteers are in the thick of the phonathon today, which takes place Oct. 6 to 8. Islanders who contribute to PIE through the phonathon will see their money put right back in the classroom later this year, when PIE awards are announced.

Teachers who have received PIE grants at all three schools are enthusiastic about the difference PIE has made in their classrooms.

Kindergartners read books and play together on a plush carpet with the alphabet on it, thanks to a grant last year from PIE.

“There was no other way we would have had an industrial-strength carpet to spend our days on,” said Kathleen Lawrence, a learning resource center teacher at Chautauqua Elementary School. “PIE is the only means by which this could have come to us.”

PIE has also funded art enrichment, materials for science and field trips for Chautauqua students, said Kate Baehr, Chautauqua principal.

Students at McMurray have had science, music, humanities and photography classes enhanced by recent PIE grants, which funded such things as a pianist for choir, young adult fiction books for the library, a sign language curriculum and other educational items.

“They’re amazing to provide these special tools it would otherwise be impossible to have,” said Gay Roselle, a McMurray science teacher whose classroom is home to a cell microscope projector, which was purchased with a PIE grant and a matching gift from a parent.

“We have a whole new unit because of this,” she said, her hand on the microprojector. “It opened up a whole new world for us. ... It turned some of my students on to microscopes for the first time.”

Her students have seen wriggling pond samples and plankton, magnified thousands of times and projected onto a screen for the whole class to examine together. As a result, she said, her students are enthusiastic about life science.

Vashon High School students and teachers also have reaped the rewards of PIE’s generosity. The Learning Resource Center, for instance, which serves students with individual educational plans, is now equipped with PIE-funded graphing calculators.

“They’re used at least four times a day with different classes,” said Louise Olsen, a supportive learning teacher at Vashon High School. “They help the kids with their more advanced studies. ... We’re grateful for PIE, especially in this economy.”

This week presents Islanders’ biggest opportunity to bolster PIE’s budget by contributing to the phonathon. Proponents of the educationally minded nonprofit are hoping Vashon residents will pick up the phone when PIE volunteers call.

“The phonathon makes up the biggest portion of our income,” Baron said. “It’s our only fundraiser, so it’s critical.”

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