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Easton Almanac: Easton Learning Foundation

The Easton Learning Foundation (ELF) was founded in 2004 by two mothers who wanted to help the community’s schools.

At that time, Easton faced devastating cuts to its municipal and school budgets. Divided residents sparred with the school board over which programs should be preserved, and few seemed willing to compromise.

Enter Al Triedel, an Easton resident and then-principal of Fox Run Elementary School in Norwalk. He spoke of education foundations – private, tax-exempt organizations that help fund education initiatives that fall outside the school budget. As Triedel spoke, two audience members were particularly struck by his comments.

Karen O'Brien and Ann Leibell did not know each other, but they were energized by their concern for public education. Inspired by Triedel's speech, the ladies went to work.

After a year of preparation, the Easton Learning Foundation achieved its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Neither O'Brien or Leibell had experience running a non-profit, but they received support from Joan Parker, Allen Fossbender, Liz Stokes, the Connecticut Consortium of Education Foundations, the Weston Education Foundation, school principals, the local PTA, concerned citizens and parents.

ELF's mission is to enrich Easton's commitment to education by securing financial and human resources for innovative educational projects, programs and professional development that fall outside of the school budget. The group also partners with the school district to help achieve its vision, and works to build community-wide support to benefit the schools.

To date, ELF has raised more than $400,000 to support nearly 40 grants for Easton public schools.  A significant contribution has been to provide SMARTboards for every classroom at Samuel Staples Elementary School, Helen Keller Middle School and Joel Barlow High School.

Recently, the group has turned its attention to science and technology. In response to studies that indicate the U.S. needs better prepared, competent high-tech workers to stay competitive in the global market, ELF launched a five-year initiative to meet that goal. The foundation donated $115,000 for the development of an Engineering and Innovation Lab at Helen Keller. This program is an extension of the highly regarded national pre-engineering program Project Lead The Way. The lab is an activity-oriented, five-unit middle school program designed to help all students explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through courses that require hands-on exploration and problem solving.

Continuing to enrich STEM education, ELF donated a LEGO machine Lab at Staples Elementary School. Using the machine lab, fifth grade students will build and explore machines and mechanisms, study gearing and calibrate and capture wind.

Other noteworthy initiatives include "Take a Walk in My Shoes," a program that allows seventh graders the opportunity to learn about different countries through food and culture, and "Easton to Uganda." The latter is a response to The Memory Project, which seeks to get writing or art classes to make story books for Ugandan children.

The foundation is governed by an all-volunteer board of directors consisting of 15 members. Bernadette Waterman has been president since 2008. An advisory board of 15 members assists with operations.

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