The Friends of the Marblehead Public Schools is kicking off the 2014-15 school year boosted by last year’s success: Thanks to the community’s generosity, FMPS funded over $150,000 worth of grants, including a $50,000 grant to create a wireless network at Marblehead High School. Last spring, FMPS announced an exciting mix of new grants that will benefit every school and child in the Marblehead public school system. They include grants for education enrichment in areas including world languages, fine arts, special education and physical education as well as teacher training.
Arts grants enrich student learning in the creative arts and performing arts, as well as in core subjects such as English. Ongoing programs funded by FMPS include the MHS Visiting Artists Program, the Marblehead Charter School’s Mighty Ukulele Club and Graphic Novel Day at MVMS. This year’s arts grants include new keyboards for Village School music classes and new chairs for Village band and orchestra students. The Visiting Speaker Series, organized by MHS art teacher Karen Lehman, brings in local professionals in the arts who can inspire like-minded students and open their eyes to career opportunities.
“There’s so much talent here in town, and for these successful people to come in and say, ‘This is the path I took; this is what I did,’ is very inspiring to the students,” Lehman explained. Renowned photographer Rick Ashley, who was also the creator of the first AIDS public-service announcement in 1988, and award-winning advertising professional and college professor Jim Fitts were the special guests for one of the sessions.
The Mighty Ukulele Club, funded in 2013, was started by former MCCPS student Matt Pert and is now run by band director T.J. Gansenberg.
“The ukulele is perceived by the kids as a cool instrument, and it’s also the right size,” explained Pert. “And a lot of kids end up graduating from the ukulele to the guitar.” Claire, a club member, added, “I like it because it’s a happy instrument.” MCCPS Principal Nina Cullen-Hamzeh explained, “Music is an important part of MCCPS. We have a school band, honors band, concert band and a jazz band, and the ukulele program is a beautiful extension of what we do. The Friends have been so generous in helping fund innovative programs. Our teachers come up with a seed of an idea, and the FMPS are the sun and rain that help it grow.”
Graphic Novel Day, another arts grant funded by FMPS, was organized by MVMS English teachers Jim Schaffnit and Laura Nash, and librarian Elizabeth Lutwak. Graphic novels give reluctant readers access to literature they might normally avoid, but the genre’s wide range of subject matter and visual styles appeal to every student, explained Shaffnit and Lutwak. The fund covered a presentation by author-artists Andy Fish, Veronica Fish, Britt Snyder and Allison Cowell, new display boards for student-created graphic-novel panels and nearly 100 new graphic novels for the MVMS library. The event featured a presentation from the artists, who encouraged students to open their eyes to what is going on around them. “Great ideas can come from people watching,” Cowell explained. Students had illustrated a scene from a novel they had read, and the creations were displayed in a gallery setting. They also worked with the artists on drawing a panel of a graphic novel.
The Village School music teachers are also excited about how FMPS grants will positively impact their programs. A new grant funded the purchase of Wenger student chairs for the band and orchestra. These chairs — just the right size for fourth- through sixth-graders — enable good posture, which is critical to successful instrument playing, explained Band Director Kate Ferris and Orchestra Director Julie Parsons. “Learning to play a musical instrument is a rewarding challenge, and through the generosity of FMPS, our students are set up for success,” Ferris said. “We have already observed the chairs’ positive impact as our beginning musicians have taken a seat in their first lessons and rehearsals this September!” And music teacher Joe Stoddard is thrilled with the grant for the purchase of new touch-sensitive keyboards (which respond like pianos) to replace the school’s 15-year old keyboards. The new keyboards interface with iPads — funded by an earlier FMPS grant — which allows “access to apps that will help students learn musical notation and learn the keys of the keyboards, plus recording apps like Garage Band,” Stoddard explained. He said that FMPS grants have been “incredibly valuable” to the music program. “My students are still playing the Orff instruments and African drums that FMPS gave us when I first came to Village School 10 years ago,” he said. “We would not have been able to get the number and quality of instruments that FMPS gave us solely through the school budget.”
For more information, visit friendsofmarblehead.org or facebook.com/FriendsMPS.