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District receives Rural Reserve Grant

Last week, the Three Forks School District announced the amazing news of receiving a $5,000 Rural Reserve Grant.

According to Superintendent Rhonda Uthlaut, the competitive grant was initiated by teacher Cathe Felz with the support of the entire Career and Technical Education (CTE) Team of Jessica Oehmcke, Ian Schilf, and Tyler Noyes.

Uthlaut said the grant will help fund the development of an extended classroom and outdoor cooking area adjacent to the family and consumer science rooms, adding this initiative also includes incorporating a greenhouse/garden for cultivating produce for the culinary program.

Felz discussed the difference between Carl Perkins funds and the recently received Rural Reserve Grants.

She said the government provides the Carl Perkins funds for CTE programs nationwide, primarily focusing on high school programs, while in contrast, the Rural Reserve Grants are allocated to middle school programs through a competitive process.

"Under the Carl Perkins funding, each high school is allocated a specific amount based on district enrollment and other relevant factors. Annually, school districts request these funds, meeting the requisite criteria to secure their allotted amount. Three Forks has been an annual recipient of Perkins funding since the '80s," she said. "Conversely, the Rural Reserve funds operate through a competitive grant process. School districts write proposals, which are then submitted to the Office of Public Instruction. These proposals undergo evaluation by state specialists and the Director of OPI, using a rubric for assessment. Grants are awarded until the entire allocation is exhausted, with higher-scoring proposals receiving greater consideration for funding."

The Three Forks CTE Team convened in January to discuss the priorities for the middle school programs in Three Forks. Felz said they did this with the primary aim of facilitating hands-on learning experiences for students and utilizing the courtyard spaces within the new footprint of the school.

"Following the completion of new construction at the school, five courtyard areas were established between buildings to provide natural light and provide ventilation to the classrooms. These areas are prime spaces for extended classroom learning opportunities which extend learning beyond the traditional classroom setting. These spaces offer exceptional opportunities for incorporating outdoor activities and educational experiences. The planning committee has prioritized the spaces to provide a variety of learning opportunities for students from the pre-K program through high school," she said.

The courtyard between the high school and middle school buildings has been designated as "the patio," and according to Felz, it is earmarked to create an outdoor cooking space and learning area.

"Other planned features include native grasses, an outdoor stage, and student artwork. Development of these courtyards will be contingent upon securing funding beyond the school's budget, with ongoing efforts focused on securing grants to bolster extended classroom learning opportunities for students from PreK to high school," Felz said.

The Three Forks CTE Team is excited to see the work they have put into the program become operational.

"The committee working on developing the courtyards is also excited for this project get started. I think we are all motivated to make some amazing things happen at the school. The new building is pretty amazing and has provided for our growing population of students. The development of the courtyards will add to the classroom experience of our students. As a faculty member, I am grateful for the updates my classroom received during our construction and renovations the past two years. Now we get to add to those improvements by developing the courtyards into new learning spaces," Felz said.

According to Felz, they will not use taxpayer/school district funds to make these additions.

"I think it is important to let our community know that the teachers appreciate the sacrifices made to build the new school and that it is amazing. As a taxpayer, I know how much the new school raised my taxes, and I personally think it was worth the extra that I am paying to add the space for students to have quality classroom experiences in a space that is comfortable," she said. "I also think people should know that the teachers are working to make the school even better by applying for funding for special projects outside of our community. CTE is important to the development of a quality workforce and providing our students with as many varied experiences as we can is only going to make a better workforce in the future. Our kids are pretty amazing, and funding special projects keeps them engaged in learning."