Foundation awards grants to Villa Park Elementary District 45 staff

On the morning of May 11, the District 45 Foundation for Excellence in Education paid a surprise visit to Villa Park Elementary District 45 staff awarded grants for the 2023-24 school year.

With giant replica checks in hand, Foundation board president Rae Srch, directors Linda Nystrom and Peg Egan, along with ex-officio directors Al Legutki and Superintendent Dr. Tony Palmisano, arrived at schools to surprise each of the grant recipients with news of their award.

In all, the foundation awarded five educational grants totaling $5,760.53.

One of the grants awarded went to Debbie Johnson, Lauren Wegner, and Esthela Arenas from Schafer Elementary. The grant will allow them to purchase a hydroponic gardening system, or "Tower Garden," for Schafer School.

"The Tower Garden is a hydroponic gardening system that students can use year-round as an engaging way to meet science, math and writing standards," Wegner said. "This will also allow students to collaborate and develop long-term goals and plans to meet those goals."

"We have big plans," Wegner said. "We're going to let the second graders vote at the beginning of the year on what they want to grow. Then, they will choose what kind of party they can have at the end, based on what they will grow."

The gardening system allows students to learn about the growing process, from choosing seeds and soils to making meals from what they have grown. Students will also develop a website to track the garden and their successes and possible failures in the growing process.

In February, the foundation invited District 45 staff to apply for grants for new and innovative projects that were not within District 45's normal operating budget. Then, in April, the foundation's board of directors carefully reviewed the grant applications they received and arrived at five winning proposals.

Earlier in the 2022-23 school year, the Foundation awarded four Educational Mini-grants of at most $1,000 in addition to the regular grant program offered each spring.

2023-24 Educational Grants were awarded to:

• STEM Bins as Fuel for Creativity!: Gabriela Manzano, Stevenson Elementary. Amount: $1,281.06

• High-Interest Books for Silent Reading: Amy Prester and Hayley Rost, Westmore Elementary. Amount: $597.51

• Kindergarten STEM Basket Manipulatives: Jennifer Zappas, Ardmore Elementary. Amount: $597.96

• Let's Read Together: Desta Wenzloff, Carly Lee, Fred Leinweber and Joe Ritchie, North Elementary. Amount: $1,900.00

• Hydroponics Indoor Garden: Debbie Johnson, Lauren Wegner and Esthela Arenas, Schafer Elementary. Amount: $1,384.00

Throughout the year, the District 45 Foundation for Excellence in Education raises funds for educational grants.

Donations to the foundation can be made online at or by mail anytime.

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