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Foundation awards grants to teachers

The Pinellas County Education Foundation handed out more than $115,000 to public school teachers Thursday at its annual Teach for Excellence Mini-Grant luncheon at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa.

Grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 were awarded to 85 educators who devised innovative projects designed to fuel students' desire to learn.

"The money helps provide programs that otherwise would not be funded," said Frances Neu, foundation president.

More than 250 grant applications were received. The proposed projects were reviewed and ranked by a team of business leaders, education professionals and community representatives. Applications were rated on creativity and the ability to benefit students.

The highest rated grant was Project Ride, an equine career training program for severely emotionally disturbed students at Calvin Hunsinger School in Clearwater.

Teacher Beth Kirtley submitted the application, but it was written by the 30 students enrolled in the program. The $1,157 she receives will buy equine videos and help get her students on the Internet.

"This grant will open more doors for my students. It will give them encouragement and hope so they have a good fighting chance of making it in the work force," she said.

Other winners include Linda Fraze, a teacher at Hamilton Disston Exceptional Center, who won for a mentoring program for severely emotionally disturbed children ages 5 to 18; Tracey Colton, Pinellas Technical Education Center, for a team program for 136 at-risk students; and Patricia LeConte, media specialist at Starkey Elementary School, for a reading achievement project for first- and second-graders.

This is the 11th year the foundation has presented the awards.