By Joanna M. Iwata
Generous donations to the Ojai Education Foundation have allowed the nonprofit organization to present a check for $45,000 to the Ojai Unified School District, which will be used to pay for new laptops, projectors, speakers and interactive whiteboards in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
Last year, the OEF gave $37,500 to the school district to pay for new classroom technology in fourth through eighth grades that helps promote the visual learning and interactivity stressed in the enVisionMATH California curriculum recently adopted by the OUSD school board.
“The $45,000 grant to OUSD for enVisionMATH technology in grades K to 3 in 2011 is the largest grant by OEF to date, and follows our grant of $37,500 for grades 4 to 8 in 2010,” said Phil Caruthers, OEF treasurer. “We are very proud of this accomplishment and very grateful for the generous contributions of more than 200 donors and many of our community businesses and sponsors for making what we do possible. Among them, Vintage Productions California LLC has been instrumental in bringing such important resources to the school district by providing matching grants of $10,000 for the past two years.”
Hank Bangser, OUSD superintendent, noted the importance of both OEF grants. “The decision of the Ojai Education Foundation board to fund the entire K through 8 mathematics technology initiative in two years, rather than the originally planned three years, was a tremendous morale and educational boost for our faculty,” he said. “I wish every OEF donor and parent could be with me when I see how much our teachers and students are the beneficiaries of the new creative software and technology available to them now, directly attributable to the $82,500 in OEF grants for the program.”
All the OUSD school principals agree the new technology has exceeded their expectations. “Because of the generosity of the Ojai Education Foundation, our classrooms have come alive with technology,” said Dawn Damianos, Meiners Oaks Elementary School principal. “Students are engaged in the lessons and teachers are able to ‘read’ students’ faces (as they are looking up to the screen in the front of the room) and see whether or not they are understanding the lesson.” Teachers use their new teaching tools not only for math, but for science, social studies, language arts and current events as well, Damianos added.
Parents Katie Metzger and Sandy Ulrich have seen the positive impact of the new technology in their children’s classrooms. “I am fortunate that I get to see firsthand how my kids and the rest of the children in the class become so excited and engaged in what they are learning,” said Metzger, who volunteers twice a week in her son’s first-grade class and her daughter’s fourth-grade class at Meiners Oaks Elementary School.
“I have noticed that both the kids and teachers love this new technology, especially the whiteboards,” said Ulrich, who has a kindergartener at San Antonio Elementary School and a middle-school student at Matilija Junior High School. “Since it is an electronically driven and interactive system, it instantly engages the students,” she said. Ulrich also said her daughter raves about the new handheld device that looks like a cell phone, which she uses in her life science and social studies classes. “Students can type answers right away so that the teacher and everyone can see them,” she said.
As Kathy White, Mira Monte Elementary School principal, said, “Technology as a tool for delivery instruction has become so important to the majority of our teachers that some have commented they feel like they are in the dark ages without it.”
John LeSuer, Topa Topa Elementary School principal, agreed. “Our teachers are feeling more comfortable with the technology,” he said. “It is making such a positive difference in our schools. Students often express that it makes learning fun and easier to follow. Teaching is also more interesting and motivating to the students of all grades and it holds their attention.”
Teacher Chris Ando at Topa Topa also concurs. “My teaching is better because I can show the students concepts and they can watch as they are presented. I didn’t know all the benefits until I started using it and I now use their technology for all subjects, not just math.”
Special-education teachers Laura Van Auker at Meiners Oaks, and Harriet Clise at Matilija, value using the new technology to make the math curriculum accessible to students with disabilities in ways that keep them active, engaged and learning in an inclusive way with other students.
Debbie Johnson, president of the OEF, is gratified by the ongoing support of OEF donors and business sponsors. “I am proud to be part of such a hard-working, all-volunteer organization,” she said. “I look forward to the future as we continue to work with OUSD to determine where our fundraising efforts will be put to the best use.”
“We are seeing what exciting things can happen for our young people, their teachers and our school system when we fund special initiatives that can transform how teachers teach and students learn,” said Marianne Ratcliff, OEF board member and parent of two children at Summit Elementary School in Upper Ojai. “The Ojai Education Foundation is committed to investing in our youths’ future through its annual educational grants and larger multiyear projects.”
OEF is a community-based, nonprofit organization that promotes excellence in public education by building community support and providing resources to our schools. For more information, log on to www.ojaief.org. Donations can be mailed to OEF, P.O. Box 1769, Ojai, Calif. 93024.