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La Crosse Public Education Foundation honors grant recipients, local advocates

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The La Crosse Public Education Foundation Friday morning honored the recipients of its annual Gold Star Grants, with awards totaling over $49,000.

La Crosse Public Education Foundation

La Crosse Public Education Foundation 

During the virtual presentation, themed “Bounce Back” in recognition of the pandemic’s impact on education, host Jennifer Livingston of WKBT shared an overview of the 21 grants awarded which will fund a walking path outside North Woods International School, strider bikes for Summit Environmental School kindergarten students, adaptive seating for Logan High School students who utilize wheelchairs, bringing in a Hmong storyteller, hoarinf a speaker on racism and sexual assault and more.

“This week has been particularly challenging week for schools, so I hope the chance to celebrate together, recognizing the creative, excellent, responsive projects happening in each of our school buildings, offers all of us a bit of a balm and a reminder of hope,” said Nell Saunders Scott, the new executive director of LPEF.

Guest speakers Sarah Johnson, former mental health director for the La Crosse Area Family YMCA and founder of the Joy Labs, and Travis Pernsteiner, marketing director for the YMCA, shared “Strategies for Building Resilience” during the event and announced a new app which allows community members to participate in the Y’s Dinner Table Resilience mental health initiative via their phone. Physical and mental health, Pernsteiner says, go “hand in hand,” and the interactive app includes videos and skill sheets.

In addition to the grant recipients, the program awarded Altra Federal Credit Union with the Corporate Partner in Education Award; Rochelle Nicks with the Margaret Dihlmann-Malzer Distinguished Service Award; and Lisa Schreiner with the Richard Swantz Leadership Award.

Kevin Strangman, executive vice president/administration for Altra, stated, “We certainly appreciate the value of investing in great education. We’re blessed to live in an area with such a strong educational system. ... We’ve committed to providing financial literacy education, which we really believe will lead to financial wellness down the road for those kids.”

Nicks, director of mission advancement at Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and member of the LPEF board of directors, was recognized for her strong leadership during the pandemic and showing up “in a big way” for fundraisers and projects. Nicks was not present for the virtual event, but submitted a comment for teachers at Emerson Elementary, with whom she worked: “I know you see each of your (students) as who they are and where they are. Please know I see each of you.”

Schreiner, principal of Southern Bluffs Elementary, was honored for her “selfless, humble, observant” nature — a “leader worth following,” according to Troy Harcey, associate superintendent of instruction for the La Crosse School District.

Schreiner expressed she doesn’t see working in education as a job, but as an opportunity for creativity, friendship and exploration.

“When we go to school we get to view each day through the eyes of the children we go to school with, and that lens is filled with wonder, excitement, acceptance and the belief that absolutely anything is possible,” Schreiner said. “We’re truly blessed, even in the challenging times that we are continuing to navigate through, that we get to go to school each day, together. (This recognition) is about all of us who strive to make a positive impact on the lives of our students, their families and the greater community.”

The Gold Star Grants, totaling $49,143, include:

  • $7,000 to provide materials to create a walking path loop in the large green space behind North Woods International School. This is a first step in a student designed outdoor classroom, prairie garden and loose parts play area. Recipients: Joshua Hein and Oliver Strassman. This grant is underwritten in part by the LPEF Tyser Power of Nature Endowment.
  • $4,206 to provide stands and carriers for Lincoln Middle School students playing marching drumline equipment to reduce back stress and increase accessibility. Recipient: Jason Harden. This grant is underwritten in part by Altra Federal Credit Union.
  • $4,075 to provide materials and transportation for students to experience the GROW greenhouse, a community garden and a farm. Recipient: GROW-Kari Bersagel Braley. This grant is underwritten in part by Gundersen Health System.
  • $3,950 to promote the learning of geometry, geology, and geography through the use of photography at La Crosse Polytechnic. Recipients: Katy Weber and Maggie McHugh. This grant is underwritten in part by Festival Foods.
  • $3,923 to provide the Hintgen Elementary School teachers with the tools to improve student handwriting skills. Recipient: Katie Zavondy-Olson. This grant is underwritten in part by Trust Point, Inc.
  • $3,660 to provide strider bikes for Summit Environmental School kindergarten students to teach the principles of balance and control while learning how to ride a bike. Recipients: Deb Ofte, Nick O’Keefe, Lisa Boyer. This grant is underwritten in part by the LPEF Randy and Lynn Nelson Endowment Fund.
  • $3,300 to bring Neng Now, a Hmong storyteller and musician, to share Hmong culture with North Woods International School students and staff and speak about the challenges the Hmong students face as they grow up in America. Recipients: Amanda Wolfgram and Alyson Glenz. This grant is underwritten in part by Coulee Bank.
  • $3,200 to provide physical therapy and occupational therapy staff with Mobility Opportunities Via Education/Experience training to help high school students with significant physical needs to maintain their independence. Recipients: Lindsey Shay and Katie Bakkee. This grant is underwritten in part by Dairyland Power Cooperative
  • $2,416 to provide Leveled Literacy Intervention materials to assist struggling State Road Elementary School readers with basic reading and comprehension skills. Recipients: Jac Lyga and Jeanie Ruprecht. This grant is underwritten in part by Fowler & Hammer.
  • $2,366 to provide materials for meaningful outside play experiences at Spence Elementary School that encourage literacy, creativity, gross motor development, cooperative play, and social skills. Recipients: Michelle L. Powell, Julie Wilson, Ashley Schultz, Tricia George and Hali Fischer. This grant is underwritten in part by LHI, part of Optum Serve.
  • $2,175 to provide adaptive seating that allows Logan High School students confined to a wheelchair to participate in class more fully and with peers by being able to raise, lower or tilt the chair. Recipient: Jessa Ellenbecker. This grant is match to a grant funded with support from the Mary Grace Sieber, Alice Gordon & Viola Forshler, and Robert & Eleanor Franke Charitable Funds of La Crosse Community Foundation. This grant is underwritten in part by Mayo Clinic Health System.
  • $1,500 to support bringing speaker Kyle Richard to the high schools to provide sexual assault, harassment, racism, and bullying bystander training. Recipient: LevelUP, Tom Berkedal. This grant is underwritten in part by Mooresmiles Dental.
  • $1,500 to create a lending library of self-regulation tools and support materials for Lincoln Middle School teachers to access. Recipients: Nicole Kuecker and Bethany Peterson
  • $1,439 to provide a visual exercise communication system for students with disabilities at Spence Elementary School, Lincoln and Longfellow Middle Schools. Recipient: Hali Fischer. This grant is underwritten in part by Mathy Construction.
  • $900 to support a comprehensive 8-week character building and physical activity program for Northside/Coulee Montessori Elementary School girls modeling healthy eating, cross-training, and discussing relevant topics. Recipients: Sara Jorgensen and Regan Mueller.
  • $768 to provide access to interactive videos that teach positive social and emotional skills at Logan Middle School. Recipients: Meghan Adams and Katie Nachtigal. This grant is awarded in honor of retired Summit Environmental teacher Tracy Taylor-Johnson and underwritten in part by Fowler and Hammer.
  • $729 to bring STEM Club participation to North Woods International School students who are unable to participate in after-school activities. Recipient: Gary Boisvert.
  • $720 to provide activities and materials for the Spence Elementary 5th Grade Leadership Camp to develop respectful role models for the younger students. Recipients: Jocelyn Buxton, Peter Schmitz and Elizabeth Roberts. This grant is awarded in honor of retired Human Resources Director Mark White and underwritten in part by Fowler and Hammer.
  • $667 to provide curriculum aligned science games to foster interpersonal and science skill development among Lincoln Middle School students. Recipient: Mandi Hundt.
  • $400 to promote science and nutrition through the planting of fruit trees and shrubs at Summit Environmental School. Recipient: Bree Moore-Lawrence. This grant is awarded in honor of retired Summit Environmental principal Dirk Hunter and underwritten in part by Fowler and Hammer.
  • $250 to provide materials to turn Hamilton/SOTA I Elementary student drawings into plush felt friends created by middle school students. Recipient: Carrie Wuensch-Harden.

Emily Pyrek can be reached at


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