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School Heroes

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We all want our children to have a quality education.

In a time of economic uncertainty, people are looking for outside resources to help students succeed in school.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 97% of the state's school districts are working with less money this year than they were last year.

I spent time in Antigo, Merrill, and Wausau where schools are raising extra money through grants, fundraisers, and even items you find around your home.

Washington Elementary School in Merrill has had an after-school tutoring program for the past 9 years. It runs Monday through Thursday from 3:00-5:00 p.m., and is fully funded through a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant. On a typical day, about 35 students utilize the program. and with 7 tutors available, program coordinator Nancy Beyersdorf says there are a lot of opportunities for 1-on-1 interaction.

"Our intention was that we keep our ratio really low for tutors and our tutoring students because they need individual help," Beyersdorf says. "We don't want to give them more of what they're getting during the day in the classroom, so we have to individualize toward whatever struggle that child has got."

And with those students spending extra hours on their studies, they need some good brain food. School officials applied for a separate grant with the local Lions Club and now they can offer milk and fresh fruits and vegetables to their students. The grants don't stop with the after-school program.

"We have a grant that is funding technology for a classroom, where the teacher bought an iPad, so the students can use that for reading, says Washington Elementary Principal Paul Klippel. "We've had grants from Target that support field trips, we've had grants that have helped with our community garden, we've had grants that have helped us build an outdoor classroom, so we really rely on grants to help support a lot of activities at Washington School that we couldn't do just in our regular school budget."

Schools in other districts are finding different ways to bring in money. Students at the AC Kiefer Educational Center in Wausau benefit from an active Parent Teacher Organization. Money brought in through multiple fundraising events helps make children's books and programs that are instrumental in their development more affordable.

"Our social skills program teaches children to solve problems and it teaches them manners and how to appropriately get things that they want in a socially appropriate manner," says AC Kiefer Principal Julie Burmesch. "So for example, if two students wanted to play with the same toy, they might go to our solution board and a solution that says 'okay let's get a timer. You play with it for a few minutes, and I'll play with it when the timer is done.'"

This Saturday, AC Kiefer is hosting one of its larger fundraisers, a pancake breakfast and carnival from 8:00 to 11:30 a.m. The proceeds from event will support every pre-school in the Wausau School District.

Over in Antigo, the PTO has enlisted the help of students at East Elementary school to raise some extra money.

Last semester, classes competed against each other to see who could collect the most Box Tops for Education.

Box Tops are found on an ever-growing amount of everyday products at the grocery store. Each one is worth $0.10 for schools.

"As a school, we collected over 9,000 Box Tops, so that will bring in more than $900 for our school, says PTO member Tracy Cooper. "The 3rd grade class in particular that won, brought in over 2,000 Box Tops, so that's a pretty significant amount of money to support and fund all the things we do at the school."

That money supports the school's library and field trip costs.

The contest has started again for this semester, and they are also collecting milk tops.

So by spending some extra time at the keyboard, typing up grants; at PTO meetings, planning fundraisers; or at home, keeping these pieces of plastic and cardboard out of the trash; you're assisting in a child's future.

There are ways you can help out as well.

I spoke with Merrill Superintendent Bruce Anderson, and he tells me volunteers are extremely important.

Anytime there's a field trip, extra adult supervision is needed.

Donating your time will save your school district money.

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