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Friday, 17 February 2017 10:03
PTA Brings the World to Division Street
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Friday night, before the weekend snowstorm, the Saratoga Music Hall at 474 Broadway was enjoying a storm of its own, a Karaoke battle, all in good fun, as a highlight to a gala raising funds for an Earth Balloon® for the Division Street Elementary School in the Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD). The “Around the World in 8 Dances” Gala held February 10 was part of a dedicated fundraising push led by the Division Street School PTA to purchase the $20,000 learning tool, and just before print deadline, the goal was reached – Division Street will shortly be the proud owner of an Earth Balloon. A list of the donors is available on the Division Street PTA’s website. “We are so grateful to our volunteers and donors,” said SSCSD Division Street PTA President Connie Woytowich. “We highly encourage our school members and the whole community to support them - whether they be a business, individual or organization. Without them - none of this would have been possible.” Woytowich is a chemistry and biology teacher at Colonie Central High School in Albany, and a NYS Master Teacher. She is also a Committee Chairperson for the STEM Lab - Earth Balloon Initiative, and a mother of four children, three at Division and one at the middle school. The initiative started when Woytowich had reached out to STEM Lab committeeperson Evelyn Hefner, a 5th grade teacher at the school with a masters in science education, and asked her what was her biggest wish for the STEM Lab and school? “Initially I thought about the Starlab® portable planetarium as well as the Earth Balloon, but it started around $40,000, which is somewhat unrealistic,” Hefner laughed. “So we decided to go for the Earth Balloon. I was able to rent one before at Lake Avenue, and the observations the kids made were fantastic. It is 20 feet in diameter when inflated, and the detail is so accurate – it’s from satellite photography. The back half of the Earth is all Pacific Ocean, and you can’t experience that unless you are walking around it. You can’t get that from a flat map or globe.” Moreover, Division Street is a receiving school for the English Language Learners in the district, and currently has students from the following countries: China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Italy, and France. “I have an Indian student in my class,” said Hefner, “and he was so excited to show everyone his airplane ride over here, and he was able to share with his classmates the geography of the area, he knew the Teutonic plates under India, the Himalayas…I can’t wait until these kids - who may feel a little out of place - can show where they are from. The Earth Balloon connects with so much for the students – geography, weather, trade routes, biomes, literature – all these things that run through every level of curriculum.” Woytowich researched it through the vendor, Earth Adventure, and found that the total cost, including shipping, would be $20,900. “The problem with just renting it is the required $5,000 deposit, which is hard for a school to scrape up. So when I called Earth Adventure and told them we would like to buy one, they waived the deposit fee so we could expose people to it and fundraise.” They raised enough funds last year to pay for the week’s rental. The school held a STEM-tastic week, with a STEM Expo on Monday, February 6. The students and school community were able to explore the balloon throughout the week, and the successful fundraising culminated in the gala that Friday that left them shy nearly $4,000, but some additional phone calls and generous donors made up the difference within a few days. Moving forward, an added benefit of the Earth Balloon is that it would be a continuing fundraiser for the STEM Lab. The Division Street STEM Lab would be able to make it available to neighboring schools for a fraction of the start-up cost as a rental (with proof of insurance). Schools in the district would pay a further reduced fee. It has little maintenance, and is very low-tech. A large fan inflates it in under a minute, and it rolls up like a sleeping bag for storage. For more information about the Earth balloon, visit www.earthadventure.org. Additional details about donations and the benefits of the Earth Balloon for Division Street Elementary can be found at www.divisionstreetschoolpta.com.