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English instructor Laura Bradley's eighth grade students at Kenilworth Junior High School, including Kaleb Mistrom, have laptops thanks to a grant from the Petaluma Educational Foundation. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

By ALEXANDRA ROWE / Petaluma Correspondent

In 1982, concerned citizens, teachers, and business leaders in Petaluma founded the Petaluma Educational Foundation to help make up the shortage of  government funding for local schools.

Thirty years later, the need has only grown as budgets have shrunk.

The private foundation gives nearly $200,000 annually in grants to Petaluma teachers. And almost 80 percent of the money goes to some kind of technological education.

Laura Bradley, who has been teaching English for over 20 years at Kenilworth Junior High, applied for a “Big Impact Grant” through the foundation. After dealing with the frustration of sharing one computer lab with 50 other teachers, she put together a package requesting $15,000.

Six months later, she received 16 laptop computer, a router and a printer for her classroom.

“People say kids these days are digital natives because they have grown up with technology, but the truth is there is more to learn,” she said.

In addition to using the computers to have students write their assignments more quickly, she is teaching them how to email and communicate effectively, be safe online with what information they disclose, and to blog their assignments to receive immediate feedback from other students.

The funding for these grants as well as for scholarships available to graduating seniors is raised directly from the local community.

The association hosts an annual golf tournament and a “Giants Night” fundraiser in the spring. This year, thee annual primary charity event took on a life of its own. Two board members, Deb Smith and Stephanie Baxman, turned the fall “Bash” into a week-long event.

Several restaurants and retail stores in Petaluma participated in the Dine and Donate Program, and gave a percentage of their sales from a day or week directly to the Educational Foundation.

Maureen Highland, the foundation’s cevelopment coordinator, explained the importance of implementing the correct tools and methods.

“We need to create the workforce of 2020,” she said. “We ask, ‘Are we doing this in our classrooms today? And if not how can we focus on doing it?’”

She feels confident that the right approach will leave a lasting effect. “We want to help teachers be responsible on identifying projects with longevity, and make sure the products coming in will give kids the opportunity to adapt constantly.”

Highland, born and raised locally, has three children enrolled at St. Vincent’s Catholic schools in town. Her efforts go across the board from private schools like the one her family attends, to charter and public, as well as all grade levels.

She believes the best part about working with the foundation is to see the community band together and make an impact.

“We see the teachers working very hard, and the students working very hard,” Highland said. “We just try to support them the best we can with the help of private citizens, companies, and organizations who all share a passion for education.”

If interested in becoming apart of the Petaluma Educational Foundation, call 778-4632 or visit www.pefinfo.com.

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