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Grant means cake, education

(Left to right) Snowden Elementary School students McKenzie Holley, Keith Brown, Jamie Spivey work on math problems with their teacher Barbara Jones. Through a Partners in Education grant, these students got a sweet deal on learning practical math via cake. (Contributed Photo)

If you ask Barbara Jones’ sixth-grade class at S.W. Snowden Elementary School, an old adage is wrong: you can have your cake and eat it, too.

“You can have your cake and eat it too” was the project title for the Partners in Education grant application Jones submitted last fall to the Beaufort County Education Foundation. The foundation’s board elected to fund the grant, and now, for a total of $99.98, Jones is leading her students, and their parents, on a cake-making expedition that teaches real-world, hands-on, mathematical experience — the kind that doesn’t come from books.

“What I’m trying to do is instill in the children that math is all around us,” said Jones. “It’s not just in the classroom.”

The project started in the fall with a trip to the Piggly Wiggly a few blocks away from the Aurora school. In the store, the children assessed their options: brands, cake-mix sizes, flavors, prices. They did the math and discussed financial strategies. They got on a computer and set up charts. Now, when a student’s birthday rolls around, the child is sent home with his or her choice of cake and icing, along with a letter to the baking partner, be it mom, dad or grandparent. The payoff on the project is doubly sweet because each child gets a birthday treat and, at the same time, will address (and write about) practical math concepts like the number of servings, ratios, elapsed time, measurements, temperatures, pan sizes, fractions, division when you halve a recipe and multiplication when you double one.

For some of these children, it’s the first time they’ve been in the kitchen. For Jones, it’s not the first time she’s asked for and received PIE grant money to fund her more creative projects for children like quilting materials to teach geometry, patterns and the historical use of quilts as signals for safe houses on the Underground Railroad.

PIE grant awards like Jones’ are made available to Beaufort County schoolrooms by multiple sources — fundraisers, donations by individuals and businesses — through the Beaufort County Education Foundation. For the past three years, $13,000 a year has been awarded to local teachers for classroom projects, more than $250,000 over the foundation’s 20-plus years, while another portion of donations received is funneled into the Beaufort County Schools Education Foundation Endowment.

“One day, we hope the endowment will completely fund the PIE grants,” said Chase Stallings, one of the foundation’s board members. “If the endowment were to double, it would almost fully fund the grants. So, we’re about halfway there.”

Stallings went on to talk about the role of fundraisers like this weekend’s gala event at Washington High School, Steppin’ Out, in which acts from schools across Beaufort County perform to a sellout audience each year. The foundation gives each performing school $300 to help cover costs, then covers those costs with the proceeds, in the end netting roughly $1,500 to be funneled back into the classroom, said Stallings.

According to Jones, additional funding of this type is extremely important to teachers and students.

“It would take a lot to swing (a project like this) on my own. This project was $100, but some have been $500, $600,” explained Jones. “That just would not be handed to you in the classroom, especially not in this economy. It’s something our teachers love that’s offered to us. … I’m just appreciative for what they do to get those grants in our hands.”

Steppin’ Out begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Washington High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $7 a person, and they must be purchased in advance.