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Hamels Foundation gives nearly $100k to support agricultural high school

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Students at W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences will soon have a new heating and cooling system in one of their campus greenhouses due to a $95,500 grant the school recently received from the Cole Hamels Foundation.

The funds were granted through the foundation’s 2016 Partners in Education Awards, which provide support in four school districts across the country, including Philadelphia. Applicants describe a specific curricular goal, and the foundation works to find partners interested in that project. “[Saul] has a different type of infrastructure where you can put [money] in a project and actually have change occur,” said Jessica McAtamney, a Saul agriculture teacher and the grant writer for the project. Saul High School has two campus greenhouses that were built 40 years ago. The grant money will go toward installing an updated heating and cooling system in one of the greenhouses, as well as computer controls to open and close the vents according to plants’ needs.

“These repairs have been needed for over 15 years, so it was a surprise that we were finally getting them,” said Lisa Blum, an agriculture teacher at Saul.

The new system will allow precise temperature control in the greenhouse, so more plants can be maintained there. Students will further benefit from seeing the latest heating and cooling technology in action.

“Right now we do quite a bit in spite of [the temperature system], but it’s always under stressful circumstances,” Blum said.

She said that she looks forward to her students experiencing “more success in doing horticulture” because of this updated system. Any remaining money will go into renovating the school’s second greenhouse.

Cole Hamels and his wife, Heidi, co-founded the Hamels Foundation in 2009. The foundation works to support educational initiatives in four cities that the Hamels family has called home and it supports the development of a school in the Mulanje District of Malawi, Africa.

Hamels began his baseball career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He pitched for Philadelphia from 2006 to 2015 and was part of the World Series championship 2008 team. Hamels was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2015.

Cole and Heidi Hamels attended a celebration of the grant at Saul on Nov. 10. Heidi Hamels is a former Future Farmers of America (FFA) member and donned a Saul uniform shirt, which bears the FFA symbol, for part of the event.

“It made the uniform cool, there’s no other way to say it,” said McAtamney.

The couple spent the day speaking with students and teachers and paid a special visit to the baseball team. “Apart from the money, that brief mentoring piece, them coming in and talking to the kids, that to me made the whole thing human,” said McAtamney. “It validated who we are at a school level and what the kids are doing.”

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