Community fund for local teachers looks to aid resource-starved schools

 One grant from the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill Teacher's Fund will go toward buying classroom books at C.W. Henry. (Jana Shea/for NewsWorks, file)

One grant from the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill Teacher's Fund will go toward buying classroom books at C.W. Henry. (Jana Shea/for NewsWorks, file)

A community fund created to help public school educators in Northwest Philadelphia bridge the ever-increasing gap in funding for materials, supplies and extracurricular activities reached a milestone $17,500 in grant awards for 2014.

It’s the highest amount ever dispensed by the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill Teacher’s Fund in its six-year history.

The fund is one of the charitable subsidiaries of nonprofit Trolley Car Helping Hands. Trolley Car Diner owner and fund founder, Ken Weinstein, said the fund was established because the organization began hearing from a number of teachers who shared their difficulties in getting funding for classroom projects and materials. Many were either paying out-of-pocket to supplement the need or halting educational activities.

“Both of those scenarios are unacceptable,” Weinstein said.

Recipients

Francesca Cantarini, a reading teacher at Mt. Airy’s C. W. Henry School, was one of those who looked to the fund for help. The school, like many in the Philadelphia public school system, does not have a functioning library and teachers have had to build their own classroom libraries for their students.

With a $1,500 grant, she and her colleagues, Lauren Pownell and JoAnn Milligan, were able to purchase a total of 240 books as supplementary reading materials for their 6th-through-8th grade students.

The three teachers chose six titles: Sharon Draper’s “Out of My Mind” and Katheryn Erskine’s “Mockingbird” — two works of fiction whose subject matter involved children with special needs; “Jefferson’s Sons” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and “Bird in a Box” by Andrea Davis Pinkney — two African-American themed fiction novels; and two African-American focused non-fiction books — Solomon Northrup’s account in “Twelve Years A Slave” and Melba Pattillo Beals’ “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High.”

Nicole Paulino Trisdorfer, a special needs educator at C.W. Henry will be using a $500 grant received from the fund towards buying ukuleles for her autistic students. Paulino says the instruments help to improve the childrens’ motor skills, all while making beautiful music. 

Community Support

Weinstein says in an ideal world public schools would be fully funded by both city and state government, but the reality is that it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

“Those in the community have to step up,” he said.

The Trolley Car Diner also applied to participate in Mt. Airy’s new Educational Improvement Tax Credit program last year, but was not accepted due to limited space in the statewide program. Weinstein noted that the business plans to reapply. 

Cantarini says the fund is essential in a time when the School District continually diminishes educational opportunity by taking away resources.

“It’s imperative to have community sponsors and support to enrich our students,” she said.

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