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From Smart Boards to gardens, school donations go a long way

Donations can enhance students’ learning experience

Fifth-grader Kate Stich uses a Smart Board to solve a math problem in Heather Engelhart's classroom at Harrison Street Elementary School in Geneva. The board was donated to the school.
Fifth-grader Kate Stich uses a Smart Board to solve a math problem in Heather Engelhart's classroom at Harrison Street Elementary School in Geneva. The board was donated to the school.

Eric Schaaf leaps at any opportunity to participate in book sale events at his sons' schools. Schaaf, a Sugar Grove resident, said he usually purchases many books, as he tries to encourage reading and "we're not apt to say no to that kind of stuff."

As a result, Schaaf said, there will be piles of gently-used books around the house, but that isn't a problem. Schaaf said he regularly donates books to Kaneland John Shields Elementary in Sugar Grove, where his youngest son, Brent, is a fifth-grader. He recently sent a batch of 70 books, and he also has donated a fish tank and some furniture.

School districts welcome such donations, so long as the items are in good condition. Many such donations are like Schaaf's, but there are donations of time, as well as especially large donations. District officials say it's easy to donate – just call the district office or a school principal. Small cash donations can be useful as well. Donations then can be approved by a district's school board.

SUBHEAD: Smart Boards, a garden and cross country skis

In Geneva School District 304, donation lists over the past few years show funds donated toward items for classroom instruction, including Smart Boards, which are white boards that can be used in different classrooms to incorporate the Internet and other computer-based learning and interactive experiences. Other items range from classroom books to cross country skis – the skis having been donated at a value of $6,784.70 – at Mill Creek Elementary School.

At Western Avenue School in Geneva, a donation that stands out is a garden dedication, a significant undertaking that the school's principal, Ron Zeman, at first thought might be too ambitious to be successful. He said a group of parents approached him about it, and he said no. He said he previously had seen such gardens deteriorate into "weed fields." But he said they were insistent and credible, with help from Jay Womack, director of landscape and ecological design for WRD Environmental.

"They said to me, 'Will you please trust us? We promise that whatever we do, that will not happen,' " Zeman said. "I said, 'OK, I will trust you.' Then the next thing I know, they are back with Jay Womack, and then they have these pavers donated."

Womack was looking to help. He is a Geneva resident who attended Western Elementary School "way back." He said he was happy to help, and he said he donated a lot of time to draw plans and do the design, solicit materials and secure prairie plants through Midwest Groundcovers. He helped with fundraisers, and he has done weeding and watering. He also led a work-day session with students.

"Everything they were talking about represented everything I stand for," Womack said, citing education about being outside, being active and being healthy. He said he offered his services as a landscape architect to design the garden.

Zeman called it "an absolutely beautiful plan," and praised the results. Womack said it was a thrill to do it, saying after he moved away, he was looking for a way to come back to Geneva and "really give back."

SUBHEAD: 'A good part of this is self-interest'

Ron Bullock, who owns St. Charles-based Bison Gear and Engineering, said there are many benefits that come with investing in developing future engineers from St. Charles schools. Donations he makes through the Greater St. Charles Education Foundation help provide funding to do that.

There are internships for students, and "externships," to get hands-on training at their school. There are scholarships and training opportunities. And, he said, he has long been involved in statewide and national education and workforce initiatives, as he learned that there was a "real shortage of young people with good math, science and communication skills."

Deb Mulrooney, president of the Greater St. Charles Education Foundation, said Bullock was "almost growing his own engineers through the program."

"It's the world that he knows, and he wants to produce more engineers," she said. "He's been very good to the district."

Bullock said he does it because it's the right thing to do and added that "a good part of this is self-interest." He praised the foundation, as well as Don Schlomann, superintendent of St. Charles School District 303, saying that "you want to make sure the investment you make has good stewardship."

He said some of the interns that have been sponsored have come back to work for Bison Gear. He said it was a positive experience, and he said he wished there were more who could know what it's like.

"There's not enough of us focusing on this particular issue," he said.

Mulrooney said all kinds of items can be donated, and the foundation aims to raise money to make purchases that teachers request. The foundation's signature event is a jazz event, which this year will take place Feb. 22 at the Royal Fox Country Club in St. Charles. For details, visit

SUBHEAD: Donations welcome, in good condition

At Kaneland John Shields Elementary School, Principal Shelley Hueber said Schaaf's donations go mostly to the classrooms of teachers who need to build their book collection. Schaaf said he knows of such a need, since his sister is a teacher.

Hueber said Schaaf's donations always are in good condition, and that it's a big help. What's not a big help, she said, would be donations of items in poor condition. She said that sometimes happens.

"Other people might give us stuff we don't want, and then we're responsible for throwing it away," Hueber said. She added that teachers welcome books or educational games.

"There's always going to be somebody who wants those," she said. "Books are always going to be an appreciated donation. ... Obviously money is, too."

Schaaf said it's a good feeling to donate. He said he moved to Sugar Grove specifically because of Kaneland School District 302 and said he has been pleased with the experience at John Shields, as well as Harter Middle School, which his older son attends.

"It's a very caring community," he said. "We've always just wanted to give back."

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