Each fall, volunteers with the New Caney ISD Education Foundation board a bus and surprise a number of teachers with grants that make classrooms more magical, lessons more hands-on and school more exciting.

The bus carries a sense of the Yuletide spirit — just a little bit early, the foundation’s executive director Michele A. Dykstra explained.

“It’s like Christmas morning,” she said.

This year, the procession began early on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Members of the foundation’s F.A.N. (Funding Academic inNovation) Club made a day of heading to 15 schools in the district and doling out awards.

“We get a drum line and get the pompoms,” Dykstra said. “We bring the noise. We want teachers to know we’re their biggest fans, and we tell the students, ‘Your teacher won this for you.’”

At Bens Branch Elementary School, Stephanie Sapp received $3,325 to create a virtual reality experience in her classroom, while at Sorters Mill Elementary school Manieka Duplantis was granted $4,600 for “Drumming Into Fitness,” an exercise program that incorporates rhythm and drum kits.

Foundation grants this year made it possible for elementary schools to gain outdoor classrooms, butterfly gardens, music equipment, literacy courses, tools to promote STEM skills, fiber art supplies, robotics and maker kits.

Julie Jeffs at Kings Manor Elementary received two grants — $4,755 for her “Aruba, Jamaica Ooohh I Wanna Take Ya ” summer reading program and $1,100 for special chapter books to help children with comprehension challenges.

  • Ashley Dutton, right, reacts as she hugs Woodridge Forest Middle School Principal Bridgett Heine after being awarded $4,600 as part of New Caney ISD's educational grant program,
  • Mark Armstrong stands stunned after being named a recipients of more than $3,000 as part of the district's educational grant program at Woodridge Forest Middle School, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Porter.
  • Members of the Woodridge Forest Middle School band perform as they parade around the school helping to award winners of New Caney ISD's educational grant program, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Porter
  • Christian Shank, a director with New Caney ISD's Education Foundation, walks onto a school bus before delivering the good news to recipients of the district's education grant program Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018,
  • Staff members with the New Caney ISD's Education Foundation prepare to deliver the good news to recipients of the district's education grant program Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in New Caney.

Grants at New Caney middle schools provided for DrumFit courses and STEM equipment, including robots, updated technology and power tools. Keefer Crossing’s Nicole Lilly received $1,758 to build a cooking club, complete with all the necessary kitchen supplies, while Woodridge Forest’s Michelle Wilcox gained $4,944 to create a “learning lounge,’ with café tables and chairs, floor pillows and lap desks.

At the high school level, grants will support a model rocket team, a math hub and physical training equipment for the JROTC.

Porter High’s Matthew Busby received $4,966 to create a community emergency response team, with classroom lockdown kits, tents, cots, triage and medical responder supplies, blankets, trauma packs, tools, folding shovels and hurricane response packs.

Harvey was Busby’s inspiration for applying for the grant. “What could we have brought to the scene?” he asked. “We did not have real life items necessary to serve others. We wanted things that would provide our students the ability to go out there and help.”

The criminal justice teacher applied for a grant at the beginning of the school year. He knew he won when a band struck up outside his classroom.

“I couldn’t stop smiling for the next 12 hours,” he said. “I was high-fiving all of my students, because that’s who we did this for.”

In total, the New Caney ISD Education Foundation provided $124,721 in teacher grants in 2018 — a substantial increase over the $47,000 raised in 2013, its first year.

The nonprofit’s mission is to maintain and expand programs that promote academic excellence, Dykstra said.

“Your tax money pays for teacher salaries, and bond money pays for buildings,” she said. “The education foundation pays for tactile teaching tools and educational opportunities. We’re inspiring students. We want to touch their hearts and keep them engaged.”

Dykstra is the only employee on staff. She operates with a 16-member board and a number of volunteers. Local businesses, like Woodridge Forest Development and the Signorelli Company, became major contributors to the effort.

Dykstra explained that, while the education foundation has grown steadily over the past few years, hurricane Harvey put a damper on things. Campuses were spared from the storm, but donor resources were diminished.

“Harvey hurt our donor base,” she said. “People who were very generous before were no longer able to give. It’s definitely something we still feel – and it will be felt for a while longer.”

To help make up for the loss, the education foundation recently added a new fundraiser to its calendar. Instead of having one event each year, there will be two to benefit the nonprofit.

The new event will be a taste-of-the-town style evening, slated for October 2019. “People will sample local fare,” Dykstra said. “We’ve only had one fundraiser a year so this is exciting for us.”

Even without Harvey, she explained that the need for additional resources has only increased as the district continues to expand.

“We’re the fastest growing school district in Houston,” she said. “There is a tremendous need. And we’re attracting teachers with innovative, great ideas.”

The more funding the foundation receives, the more grants it is able to give, she said. This year, the nonprofit offered an “adopt-a-grant” program to area businesses. Last year, an endowment was created.

Dykstra said that about 63 percent of the school district is economically disadvantaged.

“The bottom line is we’re child-driven, and we always want to do more, to do better,” Dykstra said. “All of these new ideas are there to keep kids engaged and touch their hearts.”

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