Commentary: Battle Ground Education Foundation grants school principals’ wishes


When Ryan Cowl, the principal at Battle Ground’s CAM Academy, received his first $500 Battle Ground Education Foundation (BGEF) Principals’ Grant a year ago, he knew just what to do with it.

“We bought a mountain of gift cards,” Cowl said. “Dutch Brothers, McDonald’s, Starbucks. Local places the kids love. And we held monthly drawings for students who went above and beyond, like going out of their way to welcome a new student, or picking up trash without being asked.” 

BGEF treasurer Linda Gellings said that sort of meaningful investment in students is exactly what inspired the foundation’s principals’ grant, and why the BGEF board has just approved the grant again for 2023.

“As schools reopened, the board thought the principals could use a grant to help them get their schools up and running. They approved $500 for each principal at our 18 Battle Ground schools to use as they thought best,” Gellings said. “Because district monies are public funds, schools can’t use those funds for anything that is given away, so these principals’ grants provide funding for supplemental resources, or to recognize students and/or staff in small ways that help the culture and environment of the school community.”

And sometimes, it’s the small ways that make the biggest impact. 

Antonio Lopez, the principal at Glenwood Heights Primary School, used his grant to fulfill teacher requests, such as special markers needed for a particular project. 

Lopez also bought a camera.

“Kids love seeing themselves,” Lopez said. “The camera gives us a chance to showcase our students. I’ll pop into classrooms to record what they’re doing, and then on Mondays, we show those videos to the whole school. Sometimes we’ll put together a special video, like one we did on school attendance. It was just kids talking to kids, sharing their thoughts about why it’s important to come to school every day.”

The challenges wrapped around school attendance are very familiar to Summit View High School principal Kevin Palena. 

“We have a lot of students just barely getting their basic needs met,” Palena said. “We have students who’ve found themselves as parents. Students working jobs. Students who, due to family circumstances, are on their own and now have rent to pay. They don’t need trinkets; they need their gas tank filled.”

The outside-the-box principals’ grant let Palena help the students in outside-the-box ways.

“We found a way to encourage students in ways that are meaningful to them, like Fred Meyer gift cards,” he said. “When a student completes a class, they get a ticket, and their teacher highlights which of our RISE principles — responsibility, integrity, success mindset and excellence — the student demonstrated. And then we can reward students for bringing their best every day, for perseverance, for keeping at it, no matter what.”

It turns out thinking outside of the box to meet the unique needs of their school, as the BGEF board recognized, is a wonderfully common trait among Battle Ground school principals.

Amboy Middle School, like other schools, hadn’t been able to throw any socials during COVID. But unlike some, they hadn’t held any dance at all in 20 years. 

“Now that we’re bringing after school socials back, we asked the kids how to add some flavor,” Amboy’s principal Nick Krause said. “Everybody had ideas.” 

Based on student feedback, Krause spent his grant on outdoor games, and a disco ball and smoke machine.

“Now we’ve even got cornhole and foursquare,” he said. “We have popcorn. The kids love it. And it’s not just the kids, it’s adults too. When the dancing starts, I’m the first one out there.”

Cowl added, “BGEF had a vision to support us. When students are acknowledged for good behavior, it creates connections and helps them feel valued, like they’re part of something special. It helps them see that everyone is a difference-maker.”

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To learn more about the Battle Ground Education Foundation and how to help support the students and schools, visit