nnovation is boundless in Escondido Union School District, judging by the 19 grants worth nearly $32,000 presented Monday night at the Escondido Education Foundation’s annual Dr. Mike Caston Innovation Awards.

“All over the district, wonderful things are happening,” foundation President Carolyn Royer said, kicking off the event at Reidy Creek Elementary.

This year, the foundation received 50 grant applications, and funded 19 projects. Projects for which teachers received grants cover numerous topics, including robotics, environmental science, performing arts, reading, maker spaces, and more.

“We are grateful to the foundation for their continued support of learning, and for these projects that spark a love of learning,” said EUSD Superintendent Dr. Luis Ibarra.

Several grant awards were sponsored by generous Escondido Education Foundation partners, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Current Wisdom Foundation, Route 78 Rotary, Jack Raymond in honor of Peggy Raymond, and Carilyn Gilbert Reading.

“The Escondido Education Foundation truly believes in community,” EUSD Deputy Superintendent Leila Sackfield said. “When all of these people come together, we are able to do a lot. From EUSD, thank you, Escondido Education Foundation for being the seamstress that knits together the fabric of our community.”

The foundation was established in 2004, and has been awarding grants to EUSD teachers since 2005. The Innovation Awards are competitive grants for individual educators, grade-level teams, or schoolwide projects. A foundation committee reviews and scores the projects without knowing the identity of the schools or teachers. Over the years, the foundation has awarded more than $700,000 to EUSD teachers. Royer said that 99 percent of foundation funds go into teacher classrooms.

The all-volunteer, community-driven fundraising organization supports the district’s 17 elementary schools, five middle schools, and one intermediate school. “It provides funding for additional programs that inspire learning, enrich teaching, and promote innovation and academic excellence,” said Miller Elementary Principal Kathy Morris, who also serves on the foundation board.

Monday’s lively presentation of awards was led by Morris and Reidy Creek Elementary Principal Kelly Mussatti, also a foundation board member. They welcomed up teachers to share details about their projects – some high-tech, some no-tech, and all engaging. “There’s lots of potential being actualized through these grants,” Morris said.

Quantum Academy teachers Zoe Carpenter and Vanessa Miramontes-Solorzano received a $2,500 foundation grant, sponsored by San Diego Gas & Electric, for their “STREAM in the SUN” project, which will allow 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-graders to compete in Junior Solar Sprint, a solar-powered model car competition.

At Rincon Middle School, Patty Anderson and Dena Moore will use their $913 grant, sponsored by the Current Wisdom foundation, for “Performing Arts Revival.” The grant will provide for the purchase of new microphones that will help students project their voices when they are bringing history alive with plays.

Linda Manessis, Jacquie Mushet, and Lisa Shibata, Miller Elementary’s 1st-grade team, received a $2,493 grant in honor of the late EUSD trustee Carilyn Gilbert for their “Leveled Libraries” project to create classroom lending libraries. “Books are probably the most important thing that will ever be in your child’s hands,” Manessis said. “It’s really exciting when children are empowered to pick out the books they can read at their own level. I would love to see a lending library in every single classroom.”

Melody Crook’s already-active “Hydroponic Indoor Garden” at Lincoln Elementary will grow in many ways thanks to a $2,336 foundation grant. Crook took an empty classroom and turned it into a hydroponic garden where 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-graders participate in multi-week lessons. Everything the students harvest is used in the school cafeteria. It is believed to be the first indoor hydroponic classroom garden in Southern California.

“First I borrowed and bought my own supplies, and the garden evolved and grew bigger than I ever imagined,” Crook said. “This project was a dream for me, and you made it a reality for my students.”