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One local foundation gave out $60K to 19 Forsyth County schools. Here's where it's going.
Forsyth Central High School teachers and staff pose for pictures on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, after being surprised with a grant for $689 from the Forsyth County Education Foundation. The school was one of 19 surprised with grants totaling $60,000. - photo by Brian Paglia

PK Graff and Carrie Beth Rykowski have been wanting to get the students at Gateway Academy virtual reality headsets for awhile. They know the student population at Forsyth County’s alternative school deals with a variety of life issues, and they also know research shows that virtual reality can be used to mitigate stress.

“Virtual reality has been proven to provide a lot of opportunity in that aspect,” Graff said.

On Friday, they received a check to buy all the headsets they need.

Gateway Academy was surprised with one of 19 grants awarded by the Forsyth County Education Foundation to area schools to help them implement new programs. A total of $60,000 was distributed by the foundation, the most since the fundraising entity was created by the Forsyth County Board of Education in 2015.

Forsyth Virtual Academy teachers Carrie Beth Rykowski (left) and PK Graff (second from left) accept a grant from the Forsyth County Education Foundation on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. The school was one of 19 surprised with grants totaling $60,000. - photo by Brian Paglia

“We had very good grant requests,” said Donna Wade, president of the Forsyth County branch of Coastal States Bank and chair of the foundation’s grant committee.

The foundation received 42 grant requests, Wade said, and a committee of six foundation members selected the winners based on a rubric. The grants were funded by the organization’s first-ever “Duck Dive” event this past July, where residents and local businesses “adopted” ducks for $10, as well as other donations.

This year’s grant requests were largely focused around creating new programs to address social-emotional learning, reading and STEM, Wade said.

Members of the foundation and Forsyth County Schools spent Friday surprising schools with their grants. The school day was almost over at Gateway Academy when Graff and Rykowski were pulled into a room by Academies of Creative Education principal Drew Haynes. A check for $3,474 was waiting for them.

Graff and Rykowski know exactly what they’ll do with the money: buy Oculus Quest headsets, they said. With them, the duo plan to implement the “Virtual Reality Mindfulness and Meditation” project at Gateway that would build on the school’s current mindfulness curriculum.

Students will use meditation apps through the virtual reality headsets to be immersed in relaxing environments — like an underwater scene — and “step back from all of the pressure things that they’re dealing with,” Graff said. They also plan to use a virtual reality painting tool app called Tilt Brush to give students a creative outlet, “almost like art therapy,” Rykowski said.

She added, “It’s a little bit out there, but we think it will be engaging with the kids because it’s tech that they like and love.”
Lakeside Middle School students and staff pose for pictures with members of the Forsyth County Education Foundation on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, after they were surprised with a grant of $3,133. The school was one of 19 surprised with grants totaling $60,000. - photo by Brian Paglia
Granted access

Here are the 19 grants awarded to Forsyth County schools by the Forsyth County Education Foundation.

● Virtual Reality Mindfulness and Meditation, Academies of Creative Education, $3,474

● FIRST LEGO competition teams, Big Creek Elementary, $2,984

● Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, Chattahoochee Elementary, $1,500

● Respectful Reading, Chestatee Elementary, $3,350

● Mountain Movers: Building a Love of Reading through Personalized Partnerships and Student Agency, Coal Mountain Elementary, $5,000

● Second Step, Cumming Elementary, $4,700

● Sensory Pathway, Daves Creek Elementary, $2,300

● FCHS THRIVE Science, Forsyth Central High School, $689

● Growing Readers, Haw Creek Elementary, $2,944

● JCE Seeds of Science Project, Johns Creek Elementary, $3,080

● Health and Wellness Track, Kelly Mill Elementary, $2,500

● Lakeside Sources of Strength, Lakeside Middle School, $3,133

● Sailing on the SEL Boat, Matt Elementary, $1,450

● Midway Innovation Station, Midway Elementary, $2,062

● Raider Time, North Forsyth High School, $4,600

● ELEVATES Learning, Otwell Middle School, $3,750

● Sawnee Valley Literacy Walk, Sawnee Elementary, $4,995

● Design Thinking with 3D printer, Shiloh Point Elementary, $4,992

● Sensory enhancements to Galactic Garden and nature trail, Silver City Elementary, $2,500