Harford County Education Foundation presents more than $11,000 for innovation grants to schools

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Harford County Education Foundation leaders oversaw distribution this week of more than $11,000 in Classroom Innovation Grants designed to support nearly a dozen academic and community partnership programs at local schools.

The grants were presented during Monday’s meeting of the county Board of Education.

The nonprofit education foundation works with the community and area businesses to provide classroom support beyond what the county school system provides in its budget.

“All these things enhance the learning of the students, above what we as a system can provide,” Joseph Voskuhl, school board president, said.

Foundation Chairman Warren Hamilton and Debora Merlock, its president and founder, gave board members a presentation about the mission of the group. Hamilton said “it’s particularly fitting that we meet tonight,” noting that 2018 marks 15 years since the organization was founded to support Edgewood-area students.

“It’s kind of a milestone year for us,” he said.

Merlock, whose children attended Edgewood-area schools at the time, said the organization “started with a pencil” — her daughter, who was in sixth grade at the time, came home one day frustrated because a classmate had taken her pencil, she said.

“I told her to take a box of pencils, put in on the desk, and then they’ll all have pencils,” Merlock said.

Her daughter later reported that all the pencils in the box, indeed, had been taken, pointing to a need in the classroom. Merlock met with her daughter’s teacher and together they established a supply closet. That effort grew into a partnership with area principals and the Edgewood community to help provide students with classroom supplies.

“As students were moving from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood, we recognized that if we wanted to continue to serve them we would have to broaden our efforts,” Merlock said.

The nonprofit Greater Edgewood Education Foundation was incorporated in late 2004. The name was changed to Greater Excellence in Education Foundation in 2010 as the organization expanded to the entire Harford County school district, then changed again in 2017 to the Harford County Education Foundation.

The name, Merlock said, is meant “to be more inclusive, so that everyone felt they were involved in the organization.”

In her presentation, Merlock noted that during the 2017-18 school year the foundation provided support to classrooms worth $83,459 through scholarships and programs such as the Tools for Schools Resource Center, Books in Hand Summer Learning, Everyday Heroes, TECH Tools and the Classroom Innovation Grants.

“These are programs that we learn, from our principals, are important to our teachers and our classrooms and our students,” she said.

Tools for Schools, established in 2008, is housed at the foundation’s headquarters in Bel Air. Donated school supplies are collected in partnership with businesses through an annual Stuff the Bus drive and are available for teachers at the center. Teachers can visit the center on designated “shopping days” for free supplies. Each teacher can obtain up to $100 worth of materials for their classrooms, according to the foundation website, harfordeducation.org.

Another program, TECH Tools, was established three years ago, establishing “digital lending hubs” at Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Magnolia middle schools and Edgewood middle and high school. Through the hubs, students can check out WiFi hotspot devices and laptops, and take them home to complete their schoolwork.

“The concept is to ensure that students without the Internet and laptops have the same opportunity as their peers,” Merlock said.

Meanwhile, the Everyday Heroes program recognized 28 educators for this school year who “go above and beyond in their classroom and the community,” Merlock said.

This year’s Classroom Innovation Grants total $11,243 and went to 11 recipients at nine schools — Bakerfield and William Paca-Old Post Road elementary schools each received grants for two programs.

The other recipient schools include the Alternative Education Program at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen, Aberdeen and Edgewood middle schools, and George D. Lisby, Hall’s Cross Roads, Havre de Grace and North Harford elementary schools.

The programs are designed to promote literacy, mathematics, the arts, science, outdoor learning and community-school partnerships.

Merlock noted the area businesses that contributed funds to enhance the grants, such as Delmarva Power and Rosedale Federal Savings & Loan Association.

Voskuhl, who is listed on the foundation website as an ex-officio board member, thanked teachers “for their hard work” in applying for the grants and school administrators for their support. He also praised businesses for their contributions.

“It’s really beneficial to the school system that these businesses step up and help us out, so thank you,” he said.

Laura Runyeon, school board vice president, said she and Voskuhl visited the foundation offices and resource center earlier this year, and applauded Merlock and Hamilton for their “lifelong passion.”

Board member Robert Frisch, a former teacher in Baltimore County, said he first learned of the Harford County Education Foundation in 2010 and “saw the value right way in what they were doing to support those members of the community that needed some extra assistance.

“I’m so happy to see that they have expanded and included so many other people and so many other groups,” Frisch said.

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