The Mesquite ISD Education Foundation awarded classroom and innovation grants totaling around $163,000.

The foundation gives two categories of grants each year – campus grants, which account for necessary maintenance, and innovation grants that fund new programs for the different campuses across the district. The foundation approved 27 grants for the 2021-22 school year.

“We make a decision in the spring, and the programs are implemented the following school year,” Executive Director Randy Lewallyn said. “There are 10 innovation grants totaling $125,000 this year.”

One of the programs the foundation funded is a varsity barbecue culinary team at Poteet High School. The school’s culinary arts department will obtain a barbecue pit and trailer by either purchasing one or working with the Career and Technical Education Welding Department to design and have one built. It will also purchase a storage facility for campus for all uniforms, supplies and entry fees. Lewallyn said varsity barbecue is becoming popular in the competitive culinary circuit. Branching out into barbecue will reach and involve a new set of students that the current culinary events are not reaching.

Other programs like Cultural Appreciation and Representation at Seabourn Elementary and the Social Justice and Activism Book Club at Achziger Elementary focus on appreciating diversity throughout the school district. They introduce concepts like social justice at an early age so students have a greater appreciation for cultures beyond their own by studying literature written by authors from diverse backgrounds and holding discussions on the books’ topics, the district said.

“We added a category last year to show support for the Leadership and Empowerment Team initiative, which is designed to bring dignity to all students in Mesquite ISD,” Lewallyn said. “We have opened that up as a category for someone to apply for a grant underneath that umbrella.”

The foundation also continues to fund programs that promote literacy among young students. In addition to Read, Play, Talk – a program that helps students from lower income households grow their vocabulary so they are on reading level by third grade – Mirrors, Windows and Doors is a program where elementary school students have the option to read books that are familiar to their background to grow relatability with literature and encourage learning.

“Our campuses are prioritizing our kids being on reading level by a certain grade, which will provide greater success for the rest of their career,” Lewallyn said. “If they're on reading level by third grade, statistics tell us they are more likely to succeed through the rest of their schooling. We will continue to fund a variety of literacy programs. It's a unique angle we haven't funded before.”

The Mesquite ISD Education Foundation raises funds through three primary drives – an employee giving campaign in August, a holiday-themed 5K in the fall and a signature concert and gala in the spring.

“Our signature event is the Lone Star Legacy Gala and concert,” Lewallyn said. “It's a nice gala dinner with a national-level concert artist. This year, it will be bigger and better than we've ever done. We will have over 100 table sponsors and over 3,000 people in attendance for that event. We sell table sponsors and sponsorships on the floor of the arena, and we sell tickets to the general public to people in the stands of the arena. It's a great, very well attended event in Mesquite. It's not an awards show, it's not a stuffy awards banquet. It's a party to celebrate Mesquite ISD educators.”

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