Bristol Business & Education Foundation celebrates 25th anniversary

BY LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

Whether helping students learn the elements of close reading through a document camera or giving children at all reading levels an opportunity to curl up to an E-book on a kindle, the Bristol Business Education Foundation has funded a variety of educational programs aimed at improving achievement and school development while encouraging creativity and excellence in teaching for the past 25 years.

“I think it is Bristol’s best-kept secret,” said Jeanine Audette, secretary of the foundation and district coordinator of Mentor and School to Business Partnership Programs for the Bristol Board of Education.

Founded in 1990, the foundation consists of local businesses and community members who are dedicated to supporting Bristol Public Schools. The Bristol Chamber played a key role starting the foundation. Years ago, under president John Leone, the chamber had a division called “Manpower and Education,” which was the genesis of the Bristol Business Education Foundation.

Working to improve the quality of public education above and beyond conventional academic funding from the city and other public sources, the foundation chooses to fund eligible programs in the district that enrich the educational environment of students and teachers.

Currently, over $350,000 has been donated to Bristol Public Schools and the Bristol Technical Education Center.

“A lot of things would not be possible without the foundation,” said Audette.

Governed by a Board of Directors that meets on a regular basis, the Foundation was looking for new members over several years ago when Dawn Nielsen, marketing manager of Thomaston Savings Bank, decided to get involved. At the time, Nielsen was helping out the chamber with marketing initiatives, and wanted to give back to the foundation, which supported some programs her own children were able to be a part of.

Nielsen said that because of the foundation, her daughter was able to play the French horn at Bristol Eastern High School.

“I wanted to give back because they were so generous,” said Nielsen.

This year, the foundation awarded over $13,000 in mini-grants to Bristol educators. The 17 grants range from $300 to $2,000 to support a number of programs that enhance students’ educational experience in technology, reading, writing, math, physical education, and world languages as well as science.

The mini-grants are available annually through a competitive process to education staff in the district for programs that focus on educational merit, innovation, and impact on student achievement. The grant dollars stem from donations from businesses and individuals who are committed to educational excellence in the district.

Nielsen said the grant process is a comprehensive one. On average, the foundation receives up to 20 applications, which are then narrowed down to about 12. When reviewing each application, the committee determines a number of criteria before making a final decision, such as whether the proposed program is sustainable and can provide a unique learning experience.

From supporting the use of file folders for students who have missed class at Bristol Eastern High School to providing Kindles at Mountain View School to encourage students to read independently to supporting a community garden at Greene-Hills School, the Foundation has provided funding for programs and initiatives that are long-lasting in the district.

Many of the mini-grants awarded this year have helped foster students’ 21st century skills, as more technology are integrated in a number of classrooms. For instance, one grant that was awarded to a teacher at South Side School helped fund an ELMO Document Camera for a fifth graders who must develop a deep understanding of close reading. The ELMO allows the teacher to model various reading strategies to the entire class at once.

Several other grants helped fund document cameras, including one at Bristol Eastern to increase direct instruction of literacy strategies and student engagement in science courses.

Audette said these document cameras ultimately become teaching tools that can be used for many years.

“It becomes sustainable,” said Audette. “It becomes something that will remain in their classroom.”

Meanwhile, another grant provided funds for the purchase of driving simulators gaming systems at Bristol Central High School to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving in health and transportation technology classes. This program affects 24 classes per year, with a total of 350 students who participate.

“If that saves one life, it’s priceless,” said Audette.

Looking back on the types of programming the foundation has supported, Nielsen said the foundation has made a long-lasting impact on students throughout the district, as the funded programs “challenge their minds to be more creative in the learning process.”

“We’re hoping this generation can be exposed to things they couldn’t be exposed to [before],” said Nielsen, adding how the foundation has helped opened students’ minds to the possibilities of careers in manufacturing.

From buying and refurbishing musical instruments for music departments in Bristol schools to supporting the purchase of robotic kits for the middle school robotics program to supporting the use of SMARTboards, the foundation has been proud to be a part of a variety of programs over the years.

Nielsen said she feels proud of the foundation’s support of the Bristol Technical Education Center, which has received multiple grants. A Smart Board and ELMO Digital Video Presenter has given students technology that support their learning in trade and academic classes. The Smart Board uses multi-media in daily instruction and allows students to interact with content immediately. Nielsen said she hopes to see this continue.

Looking back over the past eight years she has been involved with the foundation, Audette she is proud of the foundation’s ability to provide $6,000 in matching grants to fully fund the “WOW” Wonder of Words Bookmobile to Bristol Public Schools. This literacy program brings a lending library, read-alouds and enrichment programs to children throughout the district.

“It’s doing great,” said Audette.

Comprised of more 10directors, the board has representatives from a variety of businesses from the community.

“It continues to be a diverse group of people,” said Nielsen, adding that the foundation has become more widely recognized in the community now.

Dave Preleski of Vitrano, Preleski & Wynne LLC who has served on the Board of Directors four to five years now, said he has enjoyed getting involved with the Foundation.

“The amount of good it does is exponential,” said Preleski. “We fund things that are new or novel to our district.”

Looking back on the years he has served with the Foundation, Preleski said he feels proud of seeing the kinds of creative programming teachers in the district develop.

“What we do promotes that and rewards that,” said Preleski, adding how the teachers go out of their way with the programming they create.

Audette said the board consists of business and community leaders who understand the importance of a real partnership.

“This board [volunteers] because they know in the end, it’s helping children succeed,” said Audette, who represents the Board of Education on the Foundation.

Looking ahead, Preleski said he hopes the Foundation expands its influence within the business community.

“We’re always looking for more board members,” said Preleski. “We have to get more people involved.”

Audette said she feels proud of the commitment of business leaders who work side by side to further help students and teachers move forward.

“I’m humbled to work with these business leaders,” said Audette, adding that she hopes the foundation will expand with more business supporters in the future.

For more information, visit http://www.bristoledfoundation.com/index.html.