Gunnison Valley Education Foundation celebrates 20 years of innovation in the classroom

By Kendra Walker

This year, the Gunnison Valley Education Foundation (GVEF) celebrates 20 years of advocating for local schools and providing financial support for innovative student enrichment opportunities. 

“We ignite the power of innovation for kids in the Gunnison Valley,” says GVEF board president Robin Weidemueller. “We’ve always worked to support students and teachers in the schools and promote innovation in the classroom.”

GVEF is a component of the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley (CFGV) and originates from the community-based initiative Kids Kount established in 2003, which addressed state legislation (TABOR) requiring school districts in Colorado to replenish reserve funds. With guidance from CFGV, Kids Kount initially stepped forward to raise funds for several projects in the Gunnison Watershed School District, including the automation of the district library system, satellite phones for district school buses and Celebrate the Beat programs.

Now known as the Gunnison Valley Education Foundation, the organization remains committed to providing mini-grants for K-12 classroom teachers in the Gunnison Watershed and Marble school districts with innovative teaching ideas.

Over the last 20 years, GVEF has awarded more than $200,000 to local teachers to support innovative learning projects and activities. GVEF awards approximately 10–15 grants each year, and has supported 85 grants since 2015. “That’s approximately 14,025 students benefiting from our innovation grant awards,” says Weidemueller. “The number of kids one grant will impact is amazing.”

Earlier this month, GVEF held its 20th anniversary celebration at Garlic Mike’s and announced this year’s nine teacher innovation awards. Grants will go toward a variety of projects, from adding a decodable book section in the CBCS library, to African drum and dance workshops at CBCS, to expanding the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program at Gunnison Middle School with added equipment, tech tools and materials.

“We had teachers representing every grant there, from Gunnison schools, Crested Butte and Marble,” says Weidemueller of the celebration and awards event. “The best thing is recognizing the teachers that are out there making the magic happen.”

Weidemueller is proud to look back over the years at the innovative projects the GVEF has helped support. “I think a lot of the grants we’ve given have been sustainable projects that have lasted over the years. For example, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, ski and snowboard construction, began with an innovative idea from incredible teachers. These projects made such an impact on students, the school district embraced them and created permanent learning spaces for them. Now they have expanded and will impact many more students for years to come. Over the years, our grants have opened the world of design, outdoor education, musical instruments, theater, dance, physics and literacy.”

The 20th anniversary celebration was also a significant fundraising event for GVEF, and while they are still working on tallying the final fundraising totals, Weidemueller says the event was a huge success. “The only way that we can support teachers in the school and bring these innovative ideas to fruition is to raise these critical funds.”

Weidemueller notes that this year marked the first time GVEF ever had sponsors, and she is grateful to the businesses and organizations who showed their support. “This community is so generous. We could not have had such an amazing celebration without them.”

Moving forward, Weidemueller says the organization continues to make headway on the goals set out in GVEF’s 2000-2025 Strategic Plan. “At the end of 2022, we had grown the Kids Count Endowment from $100,000 to $200,000 while continuing to provide annual grant funding of $12,000 on average to Gunnison Valley teachers,” she says. Other goals in the strategic plan include increasing community awareness of GVEF’s accomplishments and cultivating relationships by increased attendance at community events and networking with community organizations and other non-profits. “We hope we can grow our partnerships with other community organizations and businesses,” she says.

In the coming months, GVEF will be tabling at various community events, including the Gunnison Sugar Plum Festival and the Crested Butte Museum’s Santa Night. Community members are also invited to make a donation in honor of an educator who made a difference in their life. “We send a card to that person letting them know they have been recognized and a donation has been made in their honor,” says Weidemueller.

“Our community is just so generous. I am overwhelmed by their generosity and how supportive they are, and supportive of education in particular,” says Weidemueller. “The Gunnison Valley Education Foundation truly believes that when our schools thrive, so does our community.”

For more information or to make a donation to the Gunnison Valley Education Foundation, visit gunnisonvalleyeducationfoundation.org.

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