GVEF Logo in White Circle

News & Events

Gunnison Valley Education Foundation turns 20

‘We ignite the power of the teacher’s own spark’
March 15, 2023

Mara Taylor-Heine | Special to the Times
Original Gunnison Country Times Story Here

The Gunnison Valley Education Foundation (GVEF) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. GVEF, a component fund of the Community Foundation of Gunnison Valley, is a non-profit community organization providing start-up funds for innovative grants and special projects for the Gunnison Watershed School District. Over the past 20 years, it has contributed more than $200,000 to the district.

Over the past five years, GVEF has awarded an average of nine grants per year, averaging a total of $11,400. Last year, the foundation awarded nine Teacher Innovation Grants and paid for three teachers to attend the Innovation Education Colorado Conference in Breckenridge.

“We ignite the power of the teacher’s own spark,” said GVEF Board member Sandy O’Banion. “They (teachers) have a good idea, and then we empower them to be able to act on those amazing ideas that they have.”

The Teacher Innovation Grants awarded for this school year cover a variety of enhancements, including portable laptops surfaces for a “deskless classroom” at Gunnison High School, an adaptive swing at Lake Preschool and Kindergarten and development of a project-based unit studying the culture of New Guinea at Crested Butte Community School.

The foundation started with a board of three: Mary Spann, Nancy Tredway and Betty Williams. Early grants included funding for satellite phones for school buses, school library computerization and a suicide prevention program. There were two categories of grants during these start-up days: applications from school districts and applications from teachers. Now, the applications are submitted by teachers or groups of teachers.

Antonio Zermeño Burgos enjoys his book from an extended library of Spanish books acquired with funding from the Gunnison Valley Education Foundation.

Antonio Zermeño Burgos enjoys his book from an extended library of Spanish books acquired with funding from the Gunnison Valley Education Foundation. The Teacher Innovation grants were submitted by Gunnison High School teachers Janet Welsh-Crossley and Rebecca Ceiro.

Increasingly, groups of teachers, as opposed to teachers alone, are submitting grant applications, said GVEF Board President Robin Weidemueller. The GVEF grant funding structure incentivizes collaboration among teachers, as $500 is awarded per teacher.

Another distinct feature of the GVEF grant funding structure is that no project is funded for more than three consecutive years. In this way, GVEF encourages teachers to design projects the district will take up. Over the years, the district has supported many GVEF-funded projects. For example, the district often matches GVEF grants with in-kind donations. Additionally, the district has built school infrastructure to support projects initially funded by GVEF, such as a ski and snowboard building unit and a Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics (STEAM) program at Gunnison Middle School.

“The thing that I love about GVEF is that it is small, but it makes a big difference for a lot of people, especially teachers and kids,” said Crested Butte Community High School English teacher Dave White, who served on the GVEF Board and has received several Teacher Innovation Grants over the years. “It’s the small moves that actually make the difference in the classroom … When you make a small change consistently over decades, those small changes are really easy to keep focused in the right direction.”

During the summer of 2021, CFGV provided GVEF with a Sustainable, Tough, Efficient, Purposeful (STEP) facilitator to help develop a strategic plan. Through this process, GVEF leaders rewrote their mission statement and identified goals, such as the goal to bring greater awareness of the foundation to the community.

“We wanted to bring awareness of our foundation and what we do for the schools and our community to the forefront,” Weidemueller said.

As a component fund of CFGV, GVEF does its own fundraising and is not eligible for grants from CFGV. Grants and special projects are funded by an endowment of $100,000 (established in 2008), individual donors and fundraising events, including an annual holiday card-making event honoring teachers. Both the Sugar Plum Festival in Gunnison and Santa Night at the Crested Butte Museum have featured GVEF Holiday Card booths.

As O’Banion sees it, the grants are more important now than ever before.

“The bond was specifically for facilities, and those funds cannot be used for teaching materials,” she said, referring to the $95 million dollar tax increase voters approved last year for school building expansion and facility improvements. “And so the need is still there … for teachers. Just because, you know, groceries are up, investments are down, everything costs more. Teachers usually fund things out of their own pocket. Teachers have a great need for it.”

Donations for the 2023-24 grants and special projects cycle are now being accepted through GVEF’s website. For more information scan the QR code below or email  gvef4kids@gmail.com.

(Mara Taylor-Heine can be contacted at mara@gunnisontimes.com.)