College expands grants for local school districts

This year, the College expanded its Olmsted Award program, providing funds for specific project proposals to seven school districts, four more than in past years. The Olmsted Award is a grant program funded by an endowment by the estate of George Olmsted, Jr. ’24. It was started in 1993 to encourage teachers’ professional and curriculum development. The grants are part of the College’s endowment.

The local Olmsted Awards are separate from the Olmsted Prizes, although they both originated from the same program. Olmsted Prize candidates are nominated by members of each of the College’s graduating class to recognize secondary school teachers around the world who have had a positive and significant influence on their students. Olmsted Prize recipients are invited to the College during Commencement Weekend to receive their awards. Olmsted Awards, however, focus on promoting and supporting teachers’ professional and curriculum development at local schools.

Each year, the recipient school districts decide on their own how to spend the money they receive from the program. For the past few years, McCann Technical School in North Adams, for instance, has developed its own pre-engineering program with the extra boost from the Olmsted Awards. McCann Technical School not only offers academic courses, but also trains students in specific vocations.

“The first class of students who have been all the way through the program just graduated last year, and they went on to study in polytechnic institutes for college to continue their studies,” said Jim Kolesar ’72, the College’s vice president of public affairs.

Because the Olmsted Awards are funded by the College’s endowment, the College adjusts the monetary value of the awards every few years. Since its founding in 1993, the funding for each school district has shifted between $3000 to $5000. Recently, there has been an increase in the rate of financial flow from the endowment to the spending account, and as a result, there is more money in the Olmsted Awards funding.

Originally, the College funded exclusively Mount Greylock, McCann Technical and Williamstown Elementary. This year, the list now includes North Adams Public Schools, Adams-Cheshire Re-gional, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter (BARC) and Lanesborough Elementary.

Kolesar explained that some districts only consist of one school, while bigger districts, such as the North Adams Public Schools, consist of several. As a result, in some districts, the funding is more competitive. However, by participating in the project application process for the Olmsted Awards, even teachers whose ideas are not ultimately funded are encouraged to think deeply and creatively regarding the students’ needs, according to Kolesar.

The College organizes a gathering every May to acknowledge the completed projects Previous award recipients gather student feedback and reflect upon the findings.

With the expansion of the Olmsted Awards, the College will now be funding the nearby school districts with $35,000 per year.

The funding, however, is one of several ways the College works with the surrounding schools. A group of students tutors  secondary school students in subjects such as the natural sciences and mathematics, and assists teachers in the classroom at Williamstown Elementary. In addi-tion, students from the College and MCLA have recently started a science instruction program to support schools in North Adams.

“Williams is involved with the local schools in many ways, so [the Olmsted Awards] is a nice compliment to the involvement Williams already has with some of those schools,” Kolesar said. “We are fortunate to have the resources to help them in this particular way.”