Fifth graders at Marin Headlands, a trip partially funded by BPEF

The Berkeley Public Education Foundation (BPEF) announced 230 grants to 300 teachers in Berkeley public schools today, totaling $185,000. The 2010 recipients of the annual Classroom Grants range from $150 for a class of second graders to collect and publish their writing, to a $9,000 District-wide grant for books that support the newly adopted K-5 Language Arts program.

“Due to repeated annual budget cuts, our schools are in an exceedingly difficult spot which is reflected in the highest number of dollars requested and awarded for these grants in the organization’s history,” said Molly Fraker, executive director of the nonprofit organization. “The literal number of grants was slightly down, but we’ve had many more that were collaborations of two, three or four teachers. That reflects more of a collaborative culture in our schools.”

Founded 27 years ago in a volunteer’s living room, BPEF has grown to become Berkeley’s single largest source of private outside funding to reach teachers and programs in every Berkeley public school, from pre-K through senior year at Berkeley High.

Grants include books and storytelling puppets for Franklin pre-school teacher Karen Sudjian ($500); printmaking materials for Cragmont School’s Art teacher Joe McClain ($800); ten laptops for a portable computer lab requested by a team of teachers at Willard Middle School ($10,000); and half a dozen document cameras plus expanded wireless service for Berkeley High School humanities teachers ($3,000).

In addition to the Classroom Grants, BPEF runs a number of other programs. BPEF’s School Volunteers, initiated in 1991, brings donated time, talents and skills of over 2,000 community members into all Berkeley schools. Funded organizations include Berkeley Symphony, whose Music in the Schools serves nearly 4,000 students in all 11 elementary schools with a year-long program of instruction and performance; Community Resources for Science, which helps K-8 teachers in Berkeley build confidence in their science teaching by providing information and lessons, scientist volunteers and support with extracurricular activities; and the Writer Coach Connection, whose 250 volunteers, from Cal students to retirees, undergo six hours of rigorous training to prepare them for the job of coaching middle- and high-school student writers.

“Last year our support was strong,” Fraker said. “I feel that people, when they are looking at giving, may be looking closer to home at the moment. They see that the schools year to year are just getting pounded. It’s everybody working together in our community that keeps our schools as good as they are.”

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...