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Niles teachers awarded mini grants for special projects

NILES, Mich. -- Providing grants for teachers across the county is just one of several ways the Berrien Community Foundation is stepping up to support local schools.

“By supporting the teachers in these projects, you’re supporting your students,” said Lisa Cripps-Downey, the president of the foundation.

On Monday evening, seven envelopes – each with a check for up to $500 from the foundation – were hand-delivered to seven teachers in Niles.

“I think what’s really great about these is it really highlights some of the incredible things that teachers really want to do for their students,” Cripps-Downey said.

The mini grants are available to teachers across Berrien County, who can apply online for them on the foundation’s website.

Cripps-Downey said it’s common knowledge that teachers often end up paying for special projects out of their own pockets, so the Berrien Community Foundation tries to help.

Ring Lardner math teacher Steven Runkle found out Monday afternoon that he’s getting his first-ever grant.

“Our pitch was we’re attempting to transform our math education into being able to answer that question, why do I need math?” he said.

Runkle said he’ll be spending the money on 48 posters that will hang in each math classroom in his building.

The goal is to inspire his students through visual learning.

“It’s huge!” Runkle said of the grant. “This is something that we literally couldn’t do without this foundation.”

And the foundation now has another academic angle up its sleeve.

Berrien County’s Josephine Trefz and her family – who are responsible for Lincoln Township Park in Lincoln Twp.  – recently left the organization a $500,000 estate gift after they died.

“When the last sibling passed away, it came to us with instructions to provide scholarships to low-income students in Berrien County,” Cripps-Downey said.

Any Berrien County student can apply for the scholarship starting in Spring 2018.

Cripps-Downey said the fund will never run dry because it’s an endowment that will replenish itself.

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