QUEST bolsters teachers, students

From left to right: Melvin Mathers, Maya and Emi Wakamatsu and Athena Burke, learning to use the Glowforge laser cutter which the NorthEast-Millerton Library was able to purchase with funds from The Webutuck QUEST for Excellence Fund.

Rhiannon Leo-Jameson

QUEST bolsters teachers, students

As The Webutuck QUEST for Excellence celebrates its tenth anniversary by distributing funds totaling over $21,000 while fulfilling a record 20 grant requests to teachers and community programs, Webutuck school Superintendent Ray Castellanni lauds the group’s contributions.

He says, “I’d like to thank, for every student and staff member in the district, the foundation for their continued support of our academic programs, our teachers and most importantly our students. The opportunity they have provided for both our staff and students is immeasurable. Things that we would not be able to fund within our budget they have actually helped us fund, and that has made a tremendous impact on chlldren’s lives across our community, and we look forward to their partnership for many years to come.”

He adds the effect on teachers is “tremendous because there are certain times where they may have something that is specific to their classroom or their program for their students and the district is not able to fund it. So this allows them to take chances on innovative ideas and projects or some possible trips for our students that would not be funded otherwise. So it always has ... a positive impact.”

Castellani provides approval of grant applications for funds that are administered through the Berkshire Tacconic Community Foundation with the ultimate decision on the awards made by the QUEST board.

According to chairman Lynn Buckley, QUEST “Started around June, 2013 with current committee members Tim Bontecou, Murray Zimiles, Vicki Doyle, Elizabeth Murphy, and Buckley, as well as Jennifer Dowley, Chris Kennan, M.C. O’Connor, Lisa Straus, Janet Reagon and Rhoda Lubalin, who were “interested in cultivating an atmosphere of high expectations and achievement, as well as a love of learning.”

She notes that recognizing “the positive impact educators can have on student learning... we hoped by offering monetary resources; Webutuck educators and other community organizations could be energized to create innovative programs and projects to enrich the learning of students in the Webutuck School District.”

Buckley explained that as the initial donor of $25,000, the late art teacher Rhoda Lubalin of Amenia, was given the honor of giving the group its inspirational name.

While Lubalin’s original plan was to support the arts, Buckley said, “After more thorough discussions” which highlighted deficits in reading and writing at the third-grade level, the group decided to focus on those areas in grades K-3.

Buckley explained that as the years passed and the fund grew from it’s initial total of $95,000 supplied by committee members to its current $500,000 provided mainly by “friends of friends,” QUEST’S range of what could be supported also grew as it continued with it’s mission to “support projects and efforts that create a culture where academics are respected, that cultivate an atmosphere of high expectations of achievement, encourage student initiative, creative thinking and innovation.”

This year’s recipients and projects are: Taylor Chadwell, grade 1, Pete the Cat Literacy Project; Karen Thompson and Jordan Stroly, speech therapists in WES for the Kindness Kart; Tammy Nethercott and Alyssa Plastini, kindergarten, Creating a Serenity Space; Elizabeth Murphy, Elementary Librarian, Makerspace Supplies; Anastasia Demetros, grades 4-6, Establishing a School Store; Dan Hart, Grade 4, the Wild Robot Cross Curricular Study; Audrey Toonkel, grade 4, Creating a Safe Haven for Social-Emotional well being; April Whalen, grade 4, Colonial Times, Crafts and Trades; Colin Brannen & Tom Monteverde, HS, Using Physics and Calculus in an Amusement Park Outing; Danielle Fridstrom, HS, STEAM fair t-shirts; Christine Gillette & Kathleen Howard, middle school, Fun with Collision and Energy; Leah Sprague, HS, VR Technology in Makerspace; Leah Sprague, HS, Senior class trip to VT; Jonathan Scarinzi, 8th grade, Trip to Boston; Craig Wickwire, HS, Afterschool Art Club materials; Eric Wiener, HS, Play it Forward (purchase of musical instruments and help monetarily with the rental fees of instruments); NECC, creating a Book of Poems; Cary Institute of Ecosystems, Ashley Alred, Multi year educational partnership for middle schoolers; Wassaic Project, creating a student mural; and NE Millerton Library, Sustaining 3D Printing.

The current committee, which also includes Sam Busselle, is interested in adding additional members, particularly parents of Webutuck students. For information, call Buckley at 518-789-3082.

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