2018-06-07 / Around Town

Foundation Honors Contributors to City’s Children

By Andy Long

The Newport Public Education Foundation, (NPEF), presented three Noreen Stonor Drexel awards on June 1 at the Edward King House to institutions and individuals who have enriched the lives of Newport’s school children.

The awards are named for the late Drexel, in remembrance of her 22 years of support of the foundation, which this past school year made 13 separate grants to Newport Public Schools to recognize individuals and organizations that significantly contribute to its students, said Matthew Davis, treasurer of the foundation and the evening’s first speaker.

Newport Public School Superintendent Colleen Jermain spoke of her appreciation for the foundation. “The Newport Public [Education] Foundation has done so much to support Newport Public Schools. We’re very appreciative and their support is just getting bigger and better each year,” she said.

The Friends of Education Award was presented to Peter and Melinda Gerard, Texans and ardent sailors, who, while being only parttime residents, are fully committed to Newport’s well-being.

After receiving the award, Peter Gerard spoke of asking themselves when they first came to Newport, “What can we do to contribute to this city?”

The Gerards have been involved with many local causes, including establishing the Loti Falk Gaffney Pell Elementary School Music Empowerment Trust. The program, which is named for Peter Gerard’s music-loving mother, was in place for the past school year and funded the March residency of the Providence-based Bohemian String Quartet. During their three days at Pell, students attended performances and were able to interact with the musicians and ask questions.

The Partner in Education Award was given to Sail Newport executive director Brad Read, who spoke on behalf of the organization, flanked by sailing instructors, program directors and administrators.

Read spoke of Sail Newport’s collaborative program with Pell Elementary’s fourth grade. “It takes a lot of courage and a lot of faith for the Newport Public School System to allow 180 fourth graders to get on a bus during the school day to come to Fort Adams, to put life jackets on the kids, and to send them out on the water,” he said.

His colleague from Sail Newport, Donna Kelly, said that the goal is that “every fourth grader is going to learn to sail.”

Read said after the ceremony that one child, when taken to Sail Newport, told him that when she put her hand in Narragansett Bay, she had touched salt water for the first time in her life. “Every one of these children who live a mile and a half from the water, they need to get on the water,” he said.

The Unsung Heroes in Education Award was given to Jennifer and Melinda Jackson, who administer the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at Thompson Middle School.

Melinda Jackson said it was the first time she had ever received an award. “I’m out of my comfort zone,” she said.

She spoke of the challenges the PTO faces, noting that they recently lost two-thirds of their funding and that Thompson sometimes doesn’t receive the same support and attention as Pell and Rogers.

“Our middle school children are in a dire need [of] programs to guide them to be successful adults, to be what they dream,” she said. “[The Newport Public Schools] just need more money, and don’t forget the middle school.”

“We think the young people of this town are the future. The Pell School, the whole school system, is the future of this town,” said Peter Gerard.

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