Twenty-five years ago this month, the Cheshire Education Foundation began serving the community by raising private funds to provide enhanced learning opportunities for students in the Cheshire Public Schools. In the years since 1995, the CEF has contributed well over a million dollars for projects and initiatives that would have been beyond the conventional budget resources of the public school system. And the scholarship programs administered by the foundation have helped more than 200 Cheshire High School graduates pay for their college educations.
The only member of the CEF board of directors who has served for the entire 25 years is local realtor Marty Rauch. On the occasion of the foundation’s 25th birthday, he recalled how it all started. “The superintendent at the time, Dr. Ralph Wallace, conceived of the idea, and he approached me along with a number of others to see if we could get a foundation started in Cheshire,” said Rauch. “Bill Meyerjack was completing his term as chairman of the Cheshire Board of Education, and he was the first chairman of the Cheshire Education Foundation.”
Marty Rauch described the positive attitude of the first board members as they focused on raising money for projects like the video production studio at Cheshire High School.
“We were all working to help the kids in Cheshire, who are this community’s most valuable asset,” he said. “There were no politics involved whatsoever.”
Cheshire’s was one of the first education foundations in the state of Connecticut. The first CEF board secured a $100,000 grant from the John G. Martin Foundation and board members contributed another $25,000 to purchase the equipment needed to build the video studio. In the 25 years since then, the foundation has provided funding for dedicated science classrooms at Chapman and Doolittle Schools, computer technology and Smart Boards for use across the district, the Olin Outdoor Science Classroom at Highland School, workshops for students with composers and other artists, and, most recently, cameras and microphones for 10 classrooms at Cheshire High School to improve the engagement of at-home learners with their teachers and classmates in the building.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have so many members of our community dedicated to enhancing the educational experience for our students,” said current Cheshire Schools Superintendent Jeff Solan. “Their efforts allow us to innovate and stretch the bounds of what we could provide our learners otherwise. The annual trivia contest best exemplifies the Cheshire Education Foundation for me. Not only are they raising money for a great cause, but they are having a lot of fun doing it and even showcasing our students in the process.”
Since its beginning, the Cheshire Education Foundation has been committed to helping students with scholarships for their continuing education. “We started with just one scholarship,” said Dr. Walter Gay, who was the first chairman of the CEF scholarship committee. “But I was impressed that word spread so quickly,” he added.
This spring, the Cheshire High School class of 2021 will be able to apply for 14 scholarship awards, totaling $26,500, that are administered by CEF. “Helping students in need is what is most rewarding for me,” said Dr. Barry Feldman, who has chaired the scholarship committee since 2003.
“I am proud of how many kids have benefitted from the mini-grants, programs, technology and scholarships funded by the Cheshire Education Foundation,” said current CEF chair Jane Leukart. “The diversity of the types of programs we are privileged to be part of is very rewarding. My goal for the future is to keep engaging students and give them opportunities to help shape their futures.”
That has been the common theme since December of 1995. Dr. Gay, who was there at the beginning, said he was “amazed by the great accomplishments of the foundation since its founding.”
Speaking from his 25 years of continuous service on the CEF board, Marty Rauch said, “I hope to continue to see it blossom, to get our message out, and to help make Cheshire a unique public school system where students can reach for the moon.”
“We invite anyone who would like to make a contribution to our CEF programs or scholarships to send a tax-free donation to Cheshire Education Foundation at P.O. Box 7 in Cheshire,” said Leukart.
For 25 years, the mission of the Cheshire Education Foundation has been “to help acquire and distribute funds to assist an already excellent school system to become one of the finest educational organizations in the country.” And it remains the mission with new members and new projects for the years ahead.
(Dennis Deninger is a member of the Cheshire Education Foundation.)