It might be said that the stars aligned for third-grade teacher Rachel Bluth to take her class to the planetarium at North Medford High School.

She managed to land a spot in the popular field trip destination's schedule for the first time, and just before she headed into winter break, she found out that she had a way to pay for it.

When a Northwest Community Credit Union employee made an unexpected visit to her classroom at Table Rock Elementary School, toting a big check, it was her first sign that she had been awarded the "mini-grant" she had applied for in October. This, she knew, meant that the trip on the schedule could become reality for the students who had been taking a test but were then fully distracted.

Bluth is one of three teachers in the Medford and Eagle Point school districts to win one of the mini-grants, awards of up to $1,500 provided by the credit union in its third year of running Project Community. The program aims to support educators by providing funding for projects and supplies the school staff know they need.

"We started the program because we wanted teachers be able to fund educational projects that might not otherwise be funded by regular school budgets," said Kim Clark, spokeswoman for NWCCU. "We know that teachers are taking money out of their pockets all the time."

Bluth said Table Rock Elementary can typically afford just one field trip every school year. This year, thanks to the $400 grant from NWCCU, they'll be able to do two, something she says she is excited about.

"Looking back at school myself, you really remember those field trips," she said. "And just to be able to connect what we’re learning in the classroom to outside helps the students to retain it that much more."

Zoryn Thompson, the orchestra director for the Medford School District, was awarded a $300 mini-grant to cover the cost of violin shoulder rests for students at Washington Elementary School. Shoulder rests will help the students get more comfortable playing at earlier ages, before they enter middle school and join orchestra class.

Jane McAlvage from Medford won a $1,500 grant to purchase microscopes to bolster life science classes at Kids Unlimited.

Northwest Community Credit Union has so far awarded more than $164,000 to 187 educators across all 12 Oregon counties it services. Applications for next year's round of grants will open in fall of 2018.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ka_tornay.