MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — Ringing cowbells and cheering, a group of education advocates surprised 17 educators Wednesday with giant checks funding grant requests they submitted for specific needs.

The Marble Falls Education Foundation “prize posse,” as executive director Pam Parkman described it, loaded up a school bus to drive to seven campuses, walking into classrooms and ambushing teachers in hallways.

“They don’t know we’re coming,” Parkman explained on the bus ride to the first school. “They know it’s highly competitive.”

“When I heard the bells, yes, I knew exactly what it was,” said Jennifer Rose, a music teacher at Marble Falls Elementary School.

Rose requested a little more than $2,000 to buy drums for a class drum circle, which she explained improves students’ social-emotional learning and draws them closer together. 

A Marble Falls ISD graduate herself, Rose appreciates what the education foundation is doing. “It’s an opportunity to do something I haven’t gotten to do, and I’m just really pleased.”

In all the foundation awarded more than $61,000 in grant funding, raised through private donations, a little more than half of the total requested by all applicants throughout the district.

“We like the idea that we have so many people working so hard,” superintendent Chris Allen said. “Clearly, we’d love to be able to fund more of these programs.”

This is the foundation’s second year in existence and the second year they’ve surprised teachers with grants. Last school year, they gave out about $50,000, one of which funded a maker-space classroom at Spicewood Springs Elementary for kids to build and tinker.

That’s where 4th-grader Emma Turner found out about a nationaiwde toy-making competition. KXAN told Emma’s story last year after she won the contest, meaning the company Fat Brain Toys is building her Buggy Light to sell later this year.

In February, she and her family went to New York to debut the prototype the company built from her design, and Emma’s mom said the final version should be on the shelves by late summer.

That maker-space received more grant money this year. Other needs varied from a new washer and dryer for the district’s swim coach, to a student-run coffee shop, to yoga classes, to an outdoor classroom.

“I was so excited,” laughed Kay Batch, the reading specialist at Highland Lake Elementary. Her grant to train a therapy dog for her students was funded with $665 of foundation funds.

“My children will be able to read to him one-on-one without judgement or fear,” she said, “or worried about how they sound.”

A lot of grant requests were not funded, but the foundation has grown its footprint year over year. “There’s always next year,” Allen said.