PUSD Education Foundation annual ‘Prize Parade’ celebrates the awarding of 2022 innovation grants

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Originally Published: December 3, 2022

The Prescott High Marching Band Drum Corps and Color Guard, trailed by Prescott Unified district leaders and Education Foundation volunteers carrying multi-color balloons, serenaded faculty, staff and students at Prescott High and Abia Judd Elementary Schools first thing Friday morning.

The festive, ear-throbbing “Prize Parade” spectacle is all part of what has become an annual PUSD celebration: the awarding of innovation grants to select teachers throughout the district: this year’s two grants total just under $4,500.

In the last six years, the PUSD Education Foundation has donated about $185,000 for this grant program.

The very grateful recipients this year were Prescott High School science teachers Michelle Ritzer and Paul Bunnell and Abia Judd Elementary Character Coach Sadira DeMarino and Special Education teacher Sarah Maresciallo. Ritzer and Bunnell were delivered a grant for $1,449.01 to purchase a high-tech microscope that allows for livestream capture and examination of microscopic images.

DeMarino and Maresciallo were awarded a $2,900 grant to buy a three-tier, mobile regulation station that will incorporate sand tables that can be transported to classrooms to assist students with transition times between academic lessons and recess or specialty activities, or to offer students a chance to decompress so they can refocus on class lessons.

“The whole purpose of the innovative grants program is to recognize those teachers who really have new, innovative ideas to bring to the classroom, but the funds don’t exist within the school district,” said Foundation Executive Director Paul Kirchgraber.

Prescott High science teacher Michelle Ritzer accepts innovation grant from Prescott Unified School District Education Foundation during its annual “Prize Parade” celebration. Ritzer and colleague Paul Bunnell applied for a $1,449.01 grant to purchase a high-tech microscope that enables students to do livestream examinations of all sorts of miniature objects and materials. Ritzer (left) next to PUSD Superintendent Joe Howard and member of the PUSD Education Foundation Board of Directors Ginger Nolte (right). (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

The foundation’s mission is to provide opportunities for the community to rally around their educators and students with funds that are invested into meaningful resources and programs, he said.

“Our teachers have wonderful ideas, and we get to step in and fill those gaps,” Kirchgraber said. “Plus, the Prize Parade is a hoot every year.”

Sporting a Santa cap, District Superintendent Joe Howard said these are gifts intended to enrich students’ school experiences with innovations made possible through generous community donations. Foundation Board of Directors member Ginger Nolte congratulated Ritzer and Bunnell for their application for this advanced technology that will clearly heighten the science experience for students. This is the fourth time Ritzer has received a foundation innovation grant.

Ritzer said she expects this particular microscope that will enable close examination of all kinds of materials will be used, primarily, in their biology classes, but it was clear all science students will likely get to utilize what many described as “pretty cool” experimental technology.

Ritzer said she is “excited” about adding to the inventory of technology students get to explore, enabling them to “learn in new ways.”

“You’re amazing,” a clearly delighted Ritzer declared after the troupe of drummers, color guard members, district and foundation leaders rhythmically interrupted her chemistry class with an oversized check preceding news that she and her colleagues’ grant request will be realized in the coming weeks.

At Abia Judd, all of the K-4 students were invited to sit in the hallway to witness the celebration of educational generosity. Upon the march through the entire school, the group ended up just outside the front office where DeMarino and Maresciallo were nearly speechless with excitement for the opportunity to offer yet another tool to enrich all student’s academic and social experience in school.

As the celebration ebbed, Howard shared with the children that the PUSD Education Foundation’s fundraising efforts are focused on doing whatever it takes to “help you.”

Reach Nanci Hutson by email at nhutson@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.