Grants to aid teachers, students in Woodbridge, Edison


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Staff Writer

WOODBRIDGE — Three educators in Middlesex County will benefit from $2,500 Farmers Insurance grants for their students awarded by the company’s Thank America’s Teachers program.

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Mark Willenbrock, an instrumental music teacher at Colonia Middle School, Melissa McDonald, a fourth-grade teacher at St. James School in Woodbridge, and Deacon Richard Lutomski, an assistant campus minister at Bishop George Ahr High School in Edison, received the grants.

The three educators created project proposals that received enough public online votes to be among 60 teachers nationwide selected in July for the special education grant.

Willenbrock will use the money to purchase much-needed new sound equipment and instruments for Colonia Middle School’s growing music program.

The upgraded instruments will have an immediate effect on his students’ progress.

“Our band kids are already very advanced in terms of basic skills,” said Willenbrock. “When you have the right equipment, a student’s musicianship can grow exponentially.”

The three educators’ proposals were sponsored by two local Farmers Insurance agencies, the Maria Portales Agency in Woodbridge and the Edward van Eckert Agency in Metuchen.

Portales said Farmers Insurance provides major funding for large development projects all over the country.

“As community-based agents, Thank America’s Teachers helps us make a meaningful impact in our local schools,” she said.

To date, Thank America’s Teachers has donated nearly $4 million in educational grants to hundreds of teachers making a difference for their students and communities.

“Both our agencies are looking for new proposals to support,” says Edward van Eckert, who said previous winners have also come from Edgar Middle School in Metuchen, Woodbridge High School and St. Joseph High School in Metuchen. “If a teacher has a project idea, they should contact us and we can guide them through the application process.”

The new cycle for grant submissions will run through September, and agencies are looking to have some additional teachers in the running for the October grant competition.

McDonald and Lutomski could not be reached for comment by deadline.

For more information on the next round of Thank America’s Teachers, visit

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