Holocaust Compassion Project Art and Video at Paris Gibson Square

Oftentimes a child first learns about the Holocaust from a textbook or as part of a larger lesson on World War II. But those students who hear actual stories from a Holocaust survivor can gain a much deeper level of understanding and empathy. 


That was the goal of a special grant project that brought a Holocaust survivor to Great Falls two years ago and culminates this month with a student art exhibit at Paris Gibson Square (PGS). The exhibit opens Saturday, Sept. 11 in conjunction with the museum’s Arts on Fire event. The display is located on the 2nd floor, room 33 from 10 am to 4 pm.


Funded by a grant from the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation, the project was conceived by retired teacher Carol Shipley and Great Falls High teachers Annie Simkins and Mary Dea. Working with the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, they arranged to bring Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar to Great Falls. 


Metzelaar, born in Amsterdam in 1935, was seven when Nazis raided his home and seized his family. Only he and his mother were left behind. With help from the Dutch Underground and people willing to risk everything, they survived.  His story detailed hiding with courageous farmers, stealing away to the safety of a cave, and even fooling Nazis into helping them. He spent a day sharing his story with all the middle and high school students in Great Falls, then gave a special presentation to the community at the Mansfield Theater. 


Following the presentation and as part of their history and English classes, the students then participated with the Montana Compassion Project to write about and produce artwork representing what compassion means to them. The artwork includes 520 painted wood tiles, which were mounted and are now on display at PGS.

 A short film on the project was produced by Great Falls High videography teacher Kelly Wiles and students. This video will also be featured at the museum. It can be viewed here. The exhibit, which was delayed by COVID-19, will be on display at the museum through September. 


“Without the partnership of private donors and the vision of these teachers, this event would not have been possible. We hope that this exhibit draws people into the museum and that it serves as a reminder to each of us of the importance of compassion and solidarity,” says Stephanie Schnider, Executive Director for the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation.


This grant project is one of 451 teacher grants that the GFPS Foundation has awarded since 2011. Over $1 million has been disbursed for innovative and creative projects that enhance learning for GFPS students at all grade levels.

 For more information and to hear Metzelaar’s full testimony visit https://www.holocaustcenterseattle.org/peter-metzelaar 

Teachers Awarded $122,462 in Grants by the Foundation

As students and teachers gear up for a new school year, the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation has distributed $122,462 in grants to assist classrooms and programs across the district.

Among the 24 grants distributed, a $3,000 grant to C.M. Russell High will purchase a high-tech camera for video production students. The camera will allow students to produce public service announcements and documentary-style projects for the school or community groups.

The GFPS Foundation appreciates that teachers often have new ideas for their classrooms and schools, but sometimes those ideas need funds not available from tight school budgets. Discovery Grants–usually between $500 and $3,000 each–provide teachers the means to implement their ideas.

The combined high school swim teams received a $1,350 Discovery Grant to upgrade their concessions. The money will fund a new freezer, popcorn maker, commercial catering hot box countertop warmer, and concession supplies. The upgrades will bolster concession sales, providing more sustainable support for the swim teams.

Meanwhile, groups of teachers or schools also may apply for larger Innovation Grants–up to $10,000–for projects of greater impact. A $7,500 grant to Paris Gibson Education Center provides funding for a multifaceted program for Native American Cultural Enrichment. Thanks to a $6,360 grant at CMR science students will be able to do advanced analysis in chemistry courses using newly purchased spectrophotometers. At the elementary level, Giant Springs Elementary will conduct a school-wide thematic book study accompanied with various activities that promote kindness throughout the school year with the help of a $9,865 grant.

“Our teachers do an excellent job of thinking outside the box to create impactful experiences for students. The Foundation is proud to partner with private donors and teachers to make these projects a reality,” says Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Schnider.

Since the inception of Discovery Grants ten years ago and the later addition of Innovation Grants, the Foundation has distributed more than $1 million for 451 projects. This work is possible due to the generosity of donors and is also funded by the annual Win This Truck Raffle made possible by City Motors and the Oakland family.

Grant applications for the next school year 2022-2023 open Dec. 6. Click here to visit our website for more information and to see the full lists of teachers receiving Discovery and Innovation Grants for the 2021-2022 school year.

Truck Raffle Supports Kids and Schools

Here’s a fun, easy way to support public schools and their students – buy a truck raffle ticket!  Every dollar spent directly benefits a student organization or a classroom grant. The Win This Truck Raffle is the most popular fundraiser for the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation. For each $10 ticket sold, $6 goes to the student group selling the ticket and $4 goes into classrooms. And one lucky winner gets a brand-new Toyota pickup donated by City Motor Company. Second prize is a $1,000 gift card from North40. But the real winners are the students and teachers of Great Falls.

Tickets are available now from dozens of school organizations – PTAs, sports teams, and school clubs – and online HERE.

(Commercial produced by Bison TV Production students: Sterling Chargois, Robert Anderson, Hunter Davis, Jesse Schindele, Jessica Kennedy, Brady Habel. Featured are GFH librarian, Doug Deffe, and GFH Principal, Geff Habel.)

A Decade of Excellence

Dave Crum’s Time as Director Winds Down

As the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation celebrates our 10th birthday, we give special recognition to our founding Executive Director, Dave Crum. In the past decade he built the Foundation from merely a good idea to the largest public schools foundation in Montana. …

Davidson Family Auditorium – A Generous $2 Million Gift

As students, teachers and families navigated the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, an 18-month transformation took place behind the scenes. The historic stage and auditorium at Great Falls High School were renovated and completely updated. This video shows the extensive improvements made and the importance of this heartfelt gift to our community.

The project was made possible by the largest gift ever administered by the Foundation. It was funded by Ian and Nancy Davidson, longtime community and education supporters. As Covid-19 restrictions ease, the public will soon be able to enjoy this state-of-the-art venue.

How to Support Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week is next week, May 3 – 7. If you’re grateful to any teachers for the work they’ve done in a tough year, consider letting them know. We can help!

The Great Falls Public Schools Foundation’s Gold Star Awards are a way for parents, grandparents or anyone in the community to recognize teachers and school staff members who’ve made a positive impact. Those wishing to honor the educator can make a donation of any amount to the Foundation, then the teacher is presented a special card and recognition in front of his or her class and school principal. …

CMR and North Middle School Grant Projects

Have you ever bought a $10 Win This Truck raffle ticket? Or have you honored a school employee with a Gold Star Award? If so, thank you for contributing to students and classrooms across Great Falls. In the past 10 years your contributions allowed the Foundation to award teacher grants worth over $906,000! 

Learn more about two such grants in this video produced by students at C.M. Russell High School. Pictured are CMR Video Production teacher Brian Crosby, and video student Alex Thayer.

How the Foundation Saved Recess

Plus Other Pandemic Solutions

Getting pandemic-stressed schoolchildren outside for fresh air and exercise is a given at our public schools. But just as classroom instruction poses new challenges, so do playgrounds.

At West Elementary, for example, Principal Lyndsey Stulc explained that each class is kept separate from others to maintain distance and reduce possible exposure to illness. With six different classes on the playground for each recess, that meant dividing the playground into six separate spaces. …

From Scholarship Winner to PGEC Teacher

For Paris Gibson Education Center math teacher Kathryn Heryla, the calculation is simple: Hard work + scholarships = path to success.

A 2016 graduate of C.M. Russell High School, Kathryn relied on scholarships – including two awarded by the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation – to finish college without debt. Now she’s working at what she calls her “dream Job” and even thinking about buying a house. …

Donate A One Time Or Ongoing Scholarship For High School Graduates

Setting up an educational scholarship fund can be a meaningful way to give back to your community or to honor a loved one. There are a number of things to consider when planning a scholarship. Please contact the Foundation for assistance, we are happy to help you. Contact Stephanie Schnider at stephanie_schnider@gfps.k12.mt.us or call 406-268-6021.