October 28, 2020

Grants Provide Invaluable Resources As Princeton Schools Battle Pandemic

By Donald Gilpin

The COVID-19 pandemic may have shut down some businesses and forced schools to scale back in-person learning, but it has given Valerie Ulrich, Princeton Public Schools (PPS) grant writer and coordinator of special programs, the opportunity to ramp up her office’s contributions to the school community.

“The pandemic has created significant need in our community,” she wrote in an email. “However, in response, it has created robust giving as well. While I find myself very busy managing the variety of projects we have in progress, I’m also overwhelmed with gratitude at the generosity and how the community can come together to make a difference in the lives of others. It is truly rewarding  work.”

Internet for All, Remote Care Support, and racial literacy projects are just a few of the many grant-funded programs supporting the schools’ efforts to meet urgent needs in the district.

Ulrich, grant writer for the PPS since July 2018, Riverside Elementary School principal for two years before that, and a total of 27 years’ experience in education, reported a total of more than $2 million in grants that she is managing for the PPS in the coming fiscal year.

She noted the importance of the connectivity provided to 45 families through the internet for All program, “essential to the success of our students during remote learning.”  In partnership with Comcast’s internet Essentials and T-Mobile’s EmpoweredEd programs, the district is providing free internet for economically disadvantaged Princeton families.

With another grant — which provides subsidized or free child care for more than 28 students learning remotely — the district, in collaboration with the Princeton YMCA, is giving many parents, who otherwise could not afford quality care, the ability to return to work without worry. The students meet in small pods at Pannell or Crimmins centers under the direction of the YMCA staff as they engage in remote learning with their PPS teachers.

“Our racial literacy project supports our integration of social justice themes into our early childhood program (pre-K to first grade),” Ulrich reported. “Through this grant project, our elementary library/media specialists will engage in specialized training to evaluate and enhance our library collections to reflect the multiplicity of our community.”

Racial literacy grants are also supporting teacher development and the updating of the library and humanities curriculum based on Social Justice Standards (a road map for anti-bias education), as well as the purchase of thousands of new library and classroom books for students. 

The Princeton Online Tutoring Network (POTN), managed by a group of volunteers and provided in the form of tutoring services rather than a monetary award, engages 45 students in small group tutoring with Princeton University graduate students and professors. In partnership with the University’s Pace Center, the POTN supports students from kindergarten to grade 12 who are at risk of failure or in need of additional support.

Growing steadily since its inception this summer, the POTN program is free to all who participate, and with many Princeton University tutors home due to COVID-19, PPS students are working with tutors from all over the world.

Last year PPS secured a grant from The Nicholson Foundation in the form of membership in the Transforming Early Childhood Leadership Project. Offered in conjunction with the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the program supports workshops, resources, and district mentors in promoting teacher leadership in early childhood education.

Employee wellness is the focus of a grant from Aetna Health Insurance, with PPS using provided funds to support a wellness portal, an online “one-stop shop” where employees can keep track of their activity, nutrition, and community engagement as well as learn about a variety of wellness topics such as meditation, heart health, and more. 

Other grants that Ulrich applied for and manages include two from the Princeton Education Foundation to enhance the PPS summer program and, from state and federal departments of education, more than $1M in preschool expansion funding; funding to purchase supplies and to run after-school and summer programs for at-risk learners from the Every Child Success Act; resources to upgrade the district phone system and bring PPS up to compliance with Alyssa’s Law (requiring the installation of panic alarms and warning lights); and a CARES Emergency Relief Grant to help the district with expenditures related to COVID-19. 

“A successful grant project can take months to put together,” Ulrich wrote. “The bigger the project, the longer it takes to develop. Understanding our staff, our ability to commit to a project, the level of need, and the passion of the project team all aid in selecting the appropriate funder and carrying out a project. My role is to manage all of that.”

Currently in the works are grant applications to win support for increased security in the district school buildings, a proposal with Sustainable Princeton to reduce emissions and fossil fuel consumption from landscaping equipment, and a proposal to expand preschool offerings in partnership with area private providers.

In reflecting on her career as a teacher, principal, and now grant writer and manager of special programs, Ulrich said, “I have always worked towards creating opportunity and access for our children at risk and living in poverty. My office brings together those in need and those who wish to help. By supporting PPS schools or our community partners like the YMCA, the YWCA, the Princeton Education foundation, local PTOs, or Corner House, just to name a few, we all have the power to change the trajectory of a life. It is through these investments that we can change the world.”