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. . . And Their Dreams Are Granted : Teachers Wish Upon a Star . . .

Times Staff Writer

Music teacher Cheryl Buck longed to feel the shiny brass and unstuck keys of a new saxophone. And she wished that her fourth- and fifth-grade students could hear the crisp sounds of a quality instrument.

The high cost of band instruments, however, has made them prohibitive for the Laguna Beach Unified School District, which is in the same financial straits as other California schools.

So Buck has been teaching music and band at Top of the World Elementary School on two saxophones in such bad shape that they have been declared surplus equipment. Other instruments also are in disrepair.

But now, thanks to two Irvine developers who think teachers aren’t sufficiently rewarded, Buck is getting her dream. Like two genies in a bottle, Al and Jim Baldwin asked teachers at Laguna Beach Unified to dream big dreams and to ask for something that they had always wanted but couldn’t afford. The wish had to relate to teaching, but the reward would be for them, and not their students, they said.

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The brothers then gave the school district $100,000 to be distributed over 5 years and asked school officials to make some of those dreams come true.

Nine teachers have been chosen as the recipients of the first Baldwin Scholar Grant Program, and they will use their prize money for everything from buying new instruments to traveling to Stratford-on-Avon to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace.

“It’s a fantastic program when they start giving money away with no strings attached,” Buck said. “You can just let your mind be creative, come up with things you’ve always dreamed of having but never could afford, and now you can with the help of this grant.

‘To the Teachers’

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“You can indulge yourself,” she said. “It doesn’t have to go directly to the children. It goes to the teachers to broaden their horizons.”

The Baldwin brothers are partners in the Baldwin Co., a major development firm that has built homes throughout Orange County. Their grants have been incorporated into “School Power,” the district’s nonprofit, fund-raising group made up of parents. In the 3 years since its inception, School Power has raised $150,000 in donations toward an endowment program for the school.

But the individual teacher grants were Al Baldwin’s idea. He suggested that rewarding and motivating teachers eventually translates into a better education for children.

“It enhances the general school system because it gets teachers who are enthusiastic about what they’re doing,” he said. “It shows that we care. We want to see enthusiastic teachers who are putting in an extra step. All these things are related, and it feeds back into what the students are learning.”

Related to Their Work

This year, 29 teachers applied for the grants, according to Supt. Dennis Smith, who said that the program is unique among school districts. The requirements were simple, he said: The teachers had to propose something that they had always wanted to do, that was related to their work but that they either could not personally afford or the district could not afford to do for them.

They then had to submit a written proposal. Final selections were made by a committee composed of administrators, teachers and a member of School Power.

“We kept it pretty wide open,” Smith said. “We wanted to encourage the staff to continue to pursue excellence, to stay in teaching and to encourage creativity.

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“It’s like saying, ‘Here’s $5,000--what do you want to do with it?’ ” he said. “We told them, ‘Think big, think creatively. You may never have this chance again.’ ”

The cost of funding each winning proposal ranges from $2,500 to $5,000, he said. Some of the other proposals that were chosen include:

- A trip to New York City for Rome Friesen, who teaches international relations at Laguna Beach High. For several years, Friesen has taken students to New York City on his own time for model U.N. conferences. This summer, Friesen plans to visit several United Nations missions when he goes on his Baldwin grant.

- Two laser video disc systems for science and computer teachers Kathy Vick and Pam Mackay to enhance their lessons to third- and fourth-graders about the earth, life and physical science.

- A computer-learning station for Deanna Walker, who wants to use it in her special education classroom at Top of the World Elementary School.

- Help with college costs for Heidi Lemon, an elementary school teacher who is working on her master’s degree in education at National University. Lemon “is being rewarded for her quality of work and her dedication in wanting to stay in the classroom as she works toward her master’s,” school officials said in announcing the winners.

- A trip to England for Terry Hustwick and Lois Rake, who developed the course “Shakespeare and His Times” at El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools, so that they can visit the Bard’s birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon. They also will receive funds to bring Shakespearean actors, musicians and lecturers into their classrooms.

- A computer system and software for Laguna Beach High School band teacher Jeff Foster so he can write and arrange music for his marching band, as well as for himself. Presently, he writes marching band arrangements with hand-written diagrams.

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“It will have the capability of plugging a piano keyboard into it. . . . You plug it in, play a melody, and it will print the exact notes . . . on the printer.

“It will bring me into the age of technology,” Foster said.

He will also be able to print up programs for school concerts, he said, something that is done on a regular typewriter, and then photocopied.

“It’s a totally personal incentive, and sort of a reward, which is nice for people who work as hard as we all do,” Foster said.

Buck owns only one instrument--a clarinet. Now, she will be able to purchase a saxophone, trombone, flute and trumpet.

“I thought of (proposing) a trip,” she said. She had long dreamed of going to Europe to study the musical theories of Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly.

Travel Abroad Delayed

“But I decided that my first love is instrumental music, and I thought I should learn that the very best I can before I try to go overseas.”

She will use the instruments in demonstrations when she recruits students into the fourth- and fifth-grade band programs, she said. But they will be for her use only.

“They’re for me to practice on, not for the children to play,” she said. “But they’ll get to hear them. Year after year, they will be able to hear how a fine instrument sounds.”


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