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Ayer Shirley Educational Foundation Giving Students the Tools to Succeed

October 8, 2018

Second-graders at Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer study using equipment purchased with funds from the Ayer Shirley Educational Foundation. From left are Trinity Weeks, Ryann Adamson and Elizaveta Federenko. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / SCOTT SHURTLEFF Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Scott Shurtleff

sshurtleff@nashobavalleyvoice.com

AYER -- No matter how successful a school system is, there are always gaps that need to be filled. And for the Ayer Shirley Regional School District that spackle is provided by the nonprofit group known as ASEF, or Ayer Shirley Educational Foundation.

With an annual budget of about $40,000, ASEF converts community benevolence into tangible products for the four schools in the district plus local kindergartens. The funds don’t really go to the school per se, but rather go directly into the classrooms, toward specific projects or products. With more than 350 successes already to their credit over the past eight years, ASEF is on track again to fund whatever initiatives teachers can ideate.

“I love this program, I love those people,” said Page Hilltop Elementary School Principal Fred Deppy. “This is the first place I’ve ever been to where there is a community so devoted to the students.”

Deppy cites in-school items like iPads, microscopes, fitness equipment and art supplies among the scores of out-of-budget implements that ASEF has brought directly into students’ hands.

ASEF is a group of about 14 residents from the two towns. The ever-changing roster is compromised of parents, and loosely headed by co-chairs Randy Clemence and Brenda Magno. The all-volunteer army serves as a conduit between generous donors, mostly local businesses, and classroom teachers.

“Our donors are the reason we can do what we do,” said Magno. From Knox Plumbing to Main Street Bank, dozens of sponsors contribute annually to ASEF, fully aware of the destination of those dollars.

Each town had its own incantation of an educational support foundation; Ayer’s dating back to 2004 and Shirley’s to 2007.

But when the school systems merged in 2011, “we also merged our organizations,” said Clemence. “It improved our resources by joining forces.” Buoyed by perennial platinum member sponsors Bull Run Restaurant and All Star Sporting Goods, the now-unified ASEF aspires to honor every grant request.

“If we can only fully fund one but not another, then we partially fund both,” said Magno. Whatever gaps remain in the funding for the smattering of wide-ranging projects including arts, STEM, life sciences, English language arts, and humanities, can be filled with supplemental donations from the PTO and from each school’s own budget.

The fall round of grants usually totals about $25,000 and is given to teachers of all grades for whatever educational support needs they face. Some of the grant requests are as simple as needing transportation to museums and field trips to farms and climbing walls. In the spring, an additional $10,000 is awarded as an Impact Grant to bring technological devices to desktops. Last year, 40 iPads arrived into second grade classrooms at Page Hilltop.

The flagship of the ASEF fleet is the LEGO Robotics programs. “The robotics program is huge,” said Deppy. “We’re very proud of that and have more than 40 kids involved just in this school.” The robotics program, which has evolved into competitive teams across several age groups, spreads upward to the Shirley Middle School and to the high school.

“Many of the kids in the high school robotics got their start down here in LEGO Robotics. They even come back to mentor the younger students,” said program head Brian LaPointe. “It all started about eight years ago when ASEF gave us $2,000 to buy some old, used equipment. Since then, they have funded us every year.”

They also award an annual scholarship to outgoing Panthers who have demonstrated a commitment to community service and to academic success, plus $100 each to a chosen eighth-grade boy and girl. The five preschools in the district are not left out of ASEF’s philanthropy, with $3,000 given annually to fund similar, age-appropriate projects there.

Magno insists that ASEF’s work will continue even after the children of the members graduate and move on. “We are always looking for new members,” she said, “so that we can continue to transition as parents and students ‘age out’ of the system.”

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