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Empowering Teachers - The heart of Park City Education Foundation

It’s no secret, we love teachers! They’re at the core of our mission to fund and support educator empowered initiatives that inspire all Park City students to successfully reach their academic and lifelong potential. Making sure teachers have a seat at the table when it comes to PCEF programming design and implementation is essential as they’re the experts in the diverse needs of students and their classrooms. 

The Innovation Lab, one of PCEF's 8 Signature Initiatives, emerged from the Teacher Voice Project in 2016. The project was initiated to elevate teachers’ voices and gain insight into the needs of schools and classrooms throughout the district. Over time, the Teacher Voice Project has evolved into the Innovation Lab, providing a platform for educators to collaborate and idea-share with PCEF as well as their peers, and continue to make sure they’re part of decision-making when it comes to PCEF’s classroom grant funding as well as larger programming initiatives.

Tracy Fike, Principal at Trailside Elementary School was part of the Teacher Voice Project as a Makerspace Teacher and Tech Coach, prior to her current role. Reflecting on what it means to feel supported by PCEF Ms. Fike said, “I've been lucky enough to have a lot of roles in the district and have seen the support in the classroom, as a Principal, Teacher and Tech Coach. And, it's been amazing. When we do have ideas, we have an avenue to be supported to try new things, and are able to push things in a new direction. It would not happen without the PCEF because other funds are limited to what we can do within the school – meaning other funds are already directed for things within the building and there is not often extra funding to try new and innovative ideas in the classroom." She continued, "Our relationship with the staff at the Education Foundation and their willingness to support us however humanly possible makes it feel like we’re all working together, and like PCEF is not an outside entity." She emphasized the significance of the personal connections, stating, "Teachers know the PCEF staff, and experience consistency in support and relationships.” 

As a result of the Teacher Voice Project, PCEF has continued to expand its collaboration with educators. Four educators currently serve on the Board, and the Classroom Grant Committee is 90% educators. Every two years, the Ideas for Impact Summit brings teachers together district-wide to learn from each other, and share best practices. The event also invites field experts and guest speakers to enrich professional development.

Kinder Academy, an innovative program that began at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School several years ago, has now rolled out throughout all four Park City School District elementary schools thanks to insights shared among teachers at the Ideas for Impact Summit last year. Julie Yaeger, a Kindergarten teacher at JRES who spearheaded the program with her colleagues, Mindy Martin and Allie Camerota, highlighted its success in creating balanced classroom environments. "We wanted to try to look at all angles of our kiddos and do what’s best for them. Kinder Academy has allowed us to really get to know our incoming students," Ms. Yaeger said. “We wasted a lot of time at the beginning of the school year setting up the classrooms without much information about the kids. We had this simple idea of reworking the first week of the school year so we could spend quality time with them during the first week before assigning teachers. Our Principal, Shawn Kuennen, thought it was a great idea.” 

Explaining how the program works she continued, “Kinder Academy takes place during the first week of the school year. It allows for teachers to create balanced classrooms based on the required academic assessments as well as factors like gender and age, but also takes into account social skills, behavior, and maturity. For the kids, it’s their first experience at elementary school, so we want to make sure that transition is as seamless as possible." The program has been well-received, and now all of the elementary schools are offering their own version of it. The ideal Kindergarten start situation would be for Kindergarten students to come to school on the first day of school at a chosen time their caregivers picked to complete the Beginning of the Year Assessment, learn where classrooms are and be able to see where the bus/car would drop them off in the morning so that their ”official” first day of Kindergarten isn't completely overwhelming for them."  This also allows the rest of the school to settle in on their first day without the added pressure from a whole group of new students.

Melissa Perry, a junior high and high school Mathematics teacher and parent of a Kindergartener at Trailside Elementary School, talked about the impact of initiatives like Kinder Academy. "As a teacher, I've seen firsthand the positive changes these programs bring to our classrooms," Ms. Perry shared. "But as a parent, I really wanted my daughter to have a successful start to her school year. Kinder Academy started at TES this year, and I was so thrilled Maeve and all of her neighborhood friends and daycare friends got to experience this rollout."

It's clear that programs like Kinder Academy can be shared, evolve and expand when educators collaborate together at events like the Ideas for Impact, making for better classroom experiences and paving the way for future innovative programming in Park City. No one knows more about what our schools need than those who are in the classroom. PCEF’s continued focus on lifting teacher voice, fostering collaboration, and supporting signature initiatives like Innovation Lab ensures Park City teachers know they’re valued and appreciated.

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