Twenty-nine first graders lean forward in their seats, their eyes fixed on the board at the front of the class. A boy walks to the board, looks at a digital display of 10 cookies from which three have just disappeared, and ponders the subtraction problem. He touches the seven on the screen, a bell signals he is correct and his classmates cheer.

 This is Karol Underhill’s class at Browns Valley Elementary School, where students practice math and reading skills with a Smart Board, which turns the classroom wall into an interactive screen like an iPad. Underhill purchased her board with a grant from the Napa Valley Education Foundation.

State funding could not begin to cover the cost of Smart Boards or other  materials that cties want for their children; recent budget cuts have made it increasingly difficult for schools to keep up with changing student needs and new teaching methods.

An upcoming event, organized by  Katie Aaron and Ines Bargenquast, hopes to add to the coffers of the foundation and to provide more grants. The  Race for Education, from 4-8 p.m. on May 19, includes 5K and 10K runs and a post-run party with live music from WonderBread 5. Local food trucks will have food available for sale, and local wineries will be pouring complimentary tastings. The event takes place at Napa Valley College on the soccer field. Information and registration are available at NapaFit.com/race.

Learning for the 21st century

Since its beginnings 30 years ago, Napa Valley Education Foundation.has given nearly $1.5 million to schools throughout the Napa Valley Unified School District to improve instruction.

The Education Foundation began the Music Connection, now self-funded, to provide musical instruments to students in Napa, Yountville and American Canyon. The foundation also supports the salaries of four elementary school music teachers. An annual grant program provides small grants to individual teachers for supplies or classroom materials and larger amounts to schools to implement new programs and technology.

Many grant applications are based on the district ‘s commitment to Student-Centered Learning for the 21st Century, which envisions students using technology for learning, beginning with iPads in kindergarten.

Frank Silva, Browns Valley principal, said he appreciates the foundation grants, because while supporting district goals and curriculum, “they give teachers a little autonomy for access to materials they wouldn’t otherwise be able to use.”

These teachers include Suzanne Holliday whose students in the Read 180 program at Browns Valley correct a printed passage on the Smart Board, finding errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Ignacio Murillo, a fifth- grader, said he likes the Smart Board because “you get to touch the screen.” The tactile and interactive nature of these boards give teachers an edge for engaging students’ attention.

With 29 kindergartners in her room at Canyon Oaks Elementary School in American Canyon, Wendi Misner needs materials that help her to work with students in groups and focus on individual needs. Her grant enables the kindergarten classes to share 15 Leap Pad tablets and a variety of apps. When each group’s turn comes, students wear earphones and use a stylus to choose programs and answer questions. Students use the Leap Pads to read e-books interactively and play games that focus on math, reading, and motor skills. Misner monitors the progress of each student from her classroom computer.     

‘Easy’ weight-lifting

Leilani Ames, eighth-grader at Harvest Middle School, squats holding a 10- pound medicine ball, then jumps up, reaching up to toss the heavy ball at the wall in front of her. Others in her class of nearly 40 students move in small groups through a circuit of physical tasks. They do one minute at each location, then have 15 seconds to move to the next station. After a few minutes they are focused, smiling, and breathing hard. Leilani says she likes the medicine balls because “it’s an easy way to do weight lifting.”

Teacher Manya Franco has purchased medicine balls and agility ladders with Education Foundation grants. The medicine balls work the quads and upper body, improve core strength, and can be used by kids at all fitness levels. Other students dance in different patterns of tiny footsteps in and out of agility ladders that lie flat on the floor. They promote good posture and provide a cardiovascular workout.

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 “In a time where obesity is so prevalent in our children, whenever I can incorporate more fun into fitness, the better the chances of kids wanting to engage” Franco said. “Studies have proven that quality P.E. programs, which offer a variety of activities to meet and expand students' interests, have been shown to improve academic performance as well, enrich self-esteem, restrain drug and alcohol abuse, and reduce absences.”

Celebrations and races

The Napa Valley Education Foundation is celebrating its 30-year anniversary with its non-competitive grant program in the 2013-14 school year. Every school in the district will receive money targeting technology and teaching of core subjects. The goal is to help the learning of thousands of students at all levels.

For many years, the NVEF has raised funds with a fall Taste for Knowledge Gala and auction. In the spring of 2011, Aaron and Bargenquast started an additional fundraiser, the Race for Education. In its first two years, the run raised $60,000, they said.

Bargenquast, a mother of a toddler and owner of Napa Fit, says that she and Aaron, a teacher, were inspired to start the event “to bring the community together to support all students and teachers in the Napa Valley Unified School District. We wanted it to be a family-friendly event which also supports living a healthy lifestyle which both Katie and I believe in.”

The Race for Education is made possible by donations from sponsors such as Bank of Marin, Del Sur Mortgage, Sunrise Rotary, Kaiser Permanente, and Alyssa Samrick, State Farm agent.

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