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Mini-grants spice up classrooms in West County

on December 5, 2012

When school began this fall, Peres Elementary kindergarten teacher Meredith Belany said she saw a surprising trend: many of her students didn’t seem to be able to physically write.

The reasons, she said, are unclear.

At least half of this year’s class did not have a preschool education, but busy parents with less time to spend working with their children could also be a factor.

At that age, she said, students use small materials — pencils, paints, Legos, scissors— to build the appropriate muscles used in writing. What they needed, Belany surmised, was to send home these materials with the students, to give them the opportunity to practice outside of the classroom.

Belany and co-teacher Susan German-Zec, reached out for help, and received a $500 mini-grant from the Ed Fund, a nonprofit that supports education in West County, to make kits that will help their students develop fine motor skills.

“I heard about it 6 or 7 years ago when I began teaching in the district,” Belany said. “I was just always so swamped I never had a chance to apply.”

The program, now in its 29th year, provides $500 grants to projects that are designed to create sustainable change in the classroom and $1,000 grants for school-wide projects, projects that often supplement everyday learning by making it come to life.

“It really arose from a period in our school history where funding cuts were making it more and more difficult for teachers to provide academic enrichment,” said Ed Fund Executive Director Joel Mackey.

This year, the Ed Fund awarded $35,000 in grant money to 48 projects in 27 schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

From a trip to the Oakland Zoo for first graders at Mira Vista Elementary to helping send fifth graders from Coronado to sleep-away science camp, the grant money, which is fundraised by the Ed Fund, helps supplement education by allowing schools the opportunity for enrichment activities.

Mika Livers, who has been working at El Cerrito High School as a tutor for three years, spent the summer volunteering at “Camp Fun,” a youth program that teaches obese and at-risk children about nutrition and how to cook healthy meals.

The UC Berkeley senior used that experience as a model and applied for a mini-grant from the Ed Fund titled “PEACH- Providing Eating Accessibility through Cooking at Home.”

In January, Livers will begin working with freshmen and seniors at El Cerrito High to not only teach them how to prepare four healthy meals, but understand the nutrition behind it.

“A lot of kids that I’ve worked with, and myself as well, don’t know how to cook or how much of what type of foods to make,” she said.

After doing research into the way obesity affects minority groups, and as a minority herself, Livers said she wanted to work with students in West County because education is underfunded and there’s a need for more.

According to a statewide study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the number of school-age children who are overweight or obese in Contra Costa County from 2005-2010 was at 33.85 percent.

“Home economics is lacking,” Livers said. “It affects our community a lot in regards to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Livers said because she already has a connection with many of the students she hopes PEACH will have a large impact.

“This was a blessing for me to be able to do this,” she said.


  1. Robert Menzimer on December 7, 2012 at 4:16 am

    The Ed. Fund is a terrific resource for West County schools and is led and managed by a resourceful, smart, and dedicated staff. What a great partner for local public education!

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