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AnnMarie Foundation makes good things happen for Somerset High School

Paying for a public school education isn’t what it used to be.

Today, to remain competitive and provide students with opportunities to explore the latest technologies, many districts rely on supplemental funds to help pay for programs like Project Lead the Way (PLTW), robotics programs, and advanced agriculture and food science programs.

These classes and labs challenge students to think and problem solve in ways their parents never had the chance - strategies that translate into admission to quality colleges and technical schools.

The AnnMarie Foundation has been a staple for that type of support since its inception in 1974 by Bob Cervenka and Louie Vokurka, founders of the Phillips Plastics Corporation.

Since 2010, the foundation has operated independently, providing grants and scholarships to schools and  nonprofit organizations “to promote educational, humanitarian, cultural and recreational activities.”

The foundation serves Phillips, Medford, Eau Claire, Menomonie, New Richmond, Hudson, Prescott, and neighboring communities.

“AnnMarie is an amazing foundation that has really supported a lot of our efforts on campus. They are very good at reaching out to [school] districts and saying, ‘Hey we’re here for you,’” said Trisha Sheridan, director of curriculum, instruction and assessmentfor the Somerset School District.

As is the case with most philanthropic organizations, the AnnMarie Foundation uses an application process to identify and evaluate needs within the community.

School districts can apply for and receive grants quarterly. The foundation’s board of directors evaluates applications based on “available funds, guidelines, and the impact of the grant on the community.”  

According to Sheridan, experience shows they also prefer to fund requests that provide physical equipment or supplies.

“They like supporting tangible objects, things that you can get into student’s hands and that impact lots of kids. We try to take advantage of this opportunity to help with specialized needs on campus. In the past they have funded probes and digital microscopes for some of our science programs. This year, we applied for a $4,000 grant to help fund PLTW, which is a very expensive program to run in our schools. The program uses materials that are largely consumable. We have a laser and a 3-D printer which both require supplies to keep them operating. As new technologies emerge, PLTW requires that they be incorporated into classes to sustain the program. So it becomes a pretty expensive program to maintain,” explained Sheridan.

In case you missed it, robotics is one of the fastest growing industries in the country and that is being directly reflected and supported in class and lab work at Somerset High School.

Last year, the school fielded its first robotics teams and placed two teams in the Robot Skills competition and one team in the Programing Skills competition in the top 25 at state.

They are hoping to build upon that success this year.

“We’ve got kids that are passionate about it [robotics], that are here morning, noon and night. Even on our release days, kids are coming in to work in the lab on their robots. These are a lot of the same group of kids who are in our PLTW classes and other STEM classes,“ said Sheridan. “With our most recent AnnMarie Foundation grant, we applied for supplies to sustain and promote our PLTW, including  our robotics program.”

The robotics program provides students with a challenging, hands-on opportunity in which they can apply knowledge they have learned in PLTW classes like Principles of Engineering and Introduction to Engineering Design.  

“AnnMarie came through with $4,000 for us. I handed those funds over to Eric Olson [technical education instructor and coach of the robotics team] to distribute and place orders. He is the one who makes sure we do what we say we are doing in the grant,” said Sheridan.

To prepare an application, Sheridan solicits needs from teachers at the high school, middle school and elementary school. She prioritizes needs by building and creates an itemized list which she includes with her online application. The foundation then reviews the application and determines what it will support.

AnnMarie Foundation grants typically run from $2,000-$4,000.

“We write them thank you notes and send them pictures of what we do. We feel it is impactful coming from the students because there is an education in that aspect as well.  Being grateful is important. Some of the equipment we have on campus would not be possible if we didn’t have partnerships and foundations like AnnMarie to help support our efforts,” said Sheridan.

Sheridan recognizes that the district is operating at capacity right now and the need to create space dedicated to programs like robotics is right around the corner if the district expects to stay competitive. But her more immediate need is graphing calculators for students who cannot supply their own. Sheridan knows there will always be a need and she is grateful foundations like AnnMarie are around to lend a hand.

“We’re very grateful for the continued support from AnnMarie Foundation and all involved because they make good things happen,” said Sheridan.