The Wilton Education Foundation (WEF) gave the students in Wilton’s four schools a wonderful “back to school” present at last week’s Education Foundation board meeting, approving $100,000 in grant funding to support the students in their pursuit of arts and technology education. This grant brings the total funding commitment made since 2010 to more than $500,000 provided by the Wilton Education Foundation.

This year the grants will be used to fund a student-driven effort to create and run a top-of-the-line recording studio in the high school; Chromebooks to be used in all the schools; hardware and software to expand STEM programming; funding for a student publishing project; seed money for social innovation competitions; and support for staff development opportunities for faculty in all of the schools.

Co-chairman Kit Smith notes that organization is an all-volunteer effort and that the focus of fundraising efforts are based on education and family participation, with initiatives such as “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader,” “Reading Rocks!” and the “Get Smart” 5K family race. Over the years grants have been used to purchase SMARTBoards and iPads, support staff development and education, and to further music and art in the schools.

Acoustic Wilton” concerts featuring Wilton student musicians are part of another innovative WEF fundraising program, created by Foundation co-chairman Scott Weber.

“There are so many incredibly talented student singer, songwriter, musicians in our town and Acoustic Wilton’s goal is to put them and their music onstage and to celebrate their musical gifts. The students learn how to give back or ‘play it forward’ with their talents as all funds raised through these concerts are reinvested back into the music and arts in our schools,” Weber explains. “The students are leaving an awesome legacy for those aspiring singers and musicians looking for the opportunity to showcase their talents. The recording studio grant this year, the broadcasting studio last year and the masters classes in music are examples of this legacy.”

WEF development chair and co-chair of “Reading Rocks!” Julie Steckel says that “Reading Rocks!” invites children in Pre-K through 5th grade to celebrate literacy.

“This program emphasizes that every child is a reader, whether they are flipping through a picture book, being read to by a sibling or an adult, or reading independently. We are excited to kick off what we are confident will be another successful year of this program in January.” Thanks to the large amount of students who have enthusiastically participated in this program, with the support of their families, teachers and administrators, “Reading Rocks!” has also been a significant fundraiser for WEF.

The programs have also garnered attention from the public and have become crowd favorites. Kimber Felton, co-chair of “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader,” says the program has grown in popularity since its inception. Many 5th graders voluntarily take a test to try and become one of the 20 students who get to be onstage in the Clune Center helping the ‘celebrity’ contestants answer questions from the 5th grade curriculum.

“We have been fortunate to have Kristine Lilly as a contestant in the past as well as school principals, high school coaches and student body presidents. We sold out the 850-seat Clune Center the very first year we sponsored the event. The excitement is palpable the whole time the quiz show in under way,” Felton adds.

Matt Greene, WEF vice chairman, is in charge of the “Get Smart” 5K race. “We have been fortunate to have ‘The Sol Sisters,’ a Wilton women’s running club, organize and manage the race for us. Participation continues to grow every year. There are a few elite runners, but many participants are parents running with their children, helping the younger ones and trying to keep up with the older ones.”

Technology chairman Brian Kesselman works closely with district administrators, school principals and members of the faculty to understand what their unfunded needs are for innovative and interactive teaching tools. “We are pleased to have good working relationships across the board and are thus able to focus our fundraising on what will have the biggest impact on furthering our children’s education,” he says.

Co-chairs Smith and Weber are encouraged that fundraising plans for the current school year are well under way and have a goal of raising more than $100,000 once again.

Editor’s note:  GOOD Morning Wilton editor Heather Borden Herve is a member of the WEF board.