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South Hills

Baldwin-Whitehall Educational Foundation helps bolster classrooms

| Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, 1:33 a.m.

When Tamara Rellick brings innovative technology into her first grade classroom at Paynter Elementary School, the kids enthusiasm to learn skyrockets.

As a teacher, Rellick always is trying to find ways to bring innovative technology to the classroom to engage her students.

Yet, she understands funding can be tight. So, she looks to outside sources, as well, as she strives to meet the district’s vision for innovation.

“I feel like we have an obligation to push ourselves,” she said, noting the district’s participation in the League of Innovative Schools.

This school year, thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Baldwin-Whitehall Educational Foundation, first graders at Paynter will learn coding in a “more innovative and fun way” through Dash and Dot robots that play music, dance and react to voices based on how they are coded. The grant will cover three sets, which will be shared among the grade.

It’s projects like this that the Baldwin-Whitehall Educational Foundation funds, from giving educational grants to teachers and students to financing technology projects and providing student scholarships.

The foundation, in the last year, had it’s best year yet, gifting $17,000 in scholarships, gifts and grants, President Erik Arroyo said.

The foundation, which strives to support excellence and innovation in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District and provide funding for projects and scholarships not funded by the district, will hold its third annual fundraising golf outing Aug. 11 at the Westwood Golf Club in West Mifflin.

The Baldwin-Whitehall Educational Foundation was founded in 2008, but sat mostly dormant for almost a decade, Arroyo said. In the last few years, it began to make great strides.

Two years ago, the foundation awarded one scholarship to a graduating senior at Baldwin High School. Last year, it gave out nine, totaling $6,000 in awards.

The foundation also donated $10,000 to help fund the district’s Fab Lab, a makerspace on wheels, that was dedicated May 7, Arroyo said.

Rellick received one of the educational grants that was earmarked for 2018-19.

Educational grants support special initiatives, faculty projects or technology innovation inside the classroom that are not funded by the district, Arroyo said.

After a year of using the Dash & Dot robots, Rellick will present to other teachers in the district about her experience and the pros and cons and what she learned, Arroyo said.

The foundation also plans to support the technological installations at the Baldwin Bean coffee shop, opening at the school, Arroyo said.

The foundation also tries to do outreach in the schools.

Just before winter recess they bought Sarris Candies for all of the faculty and staff and left each a “Thank You” note in their mailboxes. For Teacher Appreciation Week, they put Eat’n Park smiley cookies and a note in every mailbox.

Both times, they put a sticker on one random recipients note. That meant, they got a $50 gift card to Amazon.

The foundation raises money through the golf outing and other fundraisers. At a happy hour event in February, Superintendent Randal Lutz and assistant superintendent Denise Sedlacek served as guest bartenders.

They held a spring cleaning sale at Definintley You in Brentwood Towne Square, where the foundation received a percentage of the proceeds.

They’ve even hosted a cornhole contest, Arroyo said.

The organizations “hallmark event,” he said, is the Distinguished Highlander Hall of Fame, which started in 2015. A second round was named in 2017 and a third round will be named to coincide with the district’s 80th anniversary, Arroyo said.

“We’re starting to recognize where the foundation fits in in the district,” Arroyo said. “I really believe that we can positively influence the educational experience of all students and faculty in the district.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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