S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G to support Bristol Warren education


There's no question that the school's budget is tight, and teachers often feel the financial strain the most. Especially when trying to think outside the box to expose their students to new experiences.

"Teachers are always supplementing, that's the nature of a public school system," said Melinda Thies, Superintendent of the Bristol Warren Regional School District. "It's hard to work within the constraints of a budget."

The desire to broaden students' learning experiences is not lost on the Bristol Warren Education Foundation (BWEF). Since 2007, the non-profit organization has been raising money to fund innovative programs within the school district. The all-volunteer organization, which operates separately of the school district, has awarded $175,000 in grants to teachers over the past seven years.

"As education continues to evolve, and funding continues to be a challenge, communities must work together to fund a healthy system that graduates well-rounded students" said Heather Harley, BWEF board member. "Teachers look to us for grant funding for extra-ordinary programs that could not otherwise exist."

Such programs include an iPad lab at Kickemuit Middle School, wherein a sixth-grade class is outfitted with iPads to enhance their learning experience; the Colonial Days Project at Hugh Cole Elementary School, where fifth-grade students are exposed to hands-on projects relating to the colonial time period; and Worm Watchers at Guiteras Elementary School, which teaches students about vermicomposting via a worm-watching kit.

"The BWEF is an incubator of creativity for our students and teachers," Ms. Thies said.

To sustain those programs, however, the BWEF has to continually fund-raise. This Saturday, the organization is hosting its sixth-annual Bodacious Bee — its largest singular fund-raising event — at the Roger Williams University Field House. Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, who was a teacher at Sandy Hook during the tragic school shootings in December 2012, is the event's honorary chairperson.

"It's an adult spelling bee and teams of three work together to show off their spelling skills," said Ms. Harley, who is co-chair of the event with BWEF board member Kirsten DiChiappari. "It's humbling and entertaining all for a great cause."

There are currently 15 teams signed up to compete against incumbent winners, the Mt. Hope Farm Board of Trustees.

BWEF receives grant applications every year, and every year there is an increase, Ms. Harley said.

"This is not a trend we see reversing any time soon," she said.

Meeting that demand is challenging, and the BWEF is adding a second fund-raiser to its slate this year — The Food Truck 5K, scheduled for May 10.

"Businesses everywhere are desperately seeking an educated and prepared workforce," Ms. Harley said. "Whether our students continue on to institutes of higher learning, or seek employment immediately, BWEF and similar organizations are a reality in this day and age."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.