Education Foundations Doing Part To Make OK Schools 'So Much More'
SAND SPRINGS, Oklahoma - With Oklahoma's public schools limping along at the bottom of most national measurements and facing still more drastic budget cuts this year and next, it's easy to get discouraged.
Or, you can get involved and support your school district's education foundation; that’s one way to make Oklahoma ‘So Much More.’
Daniel Schmidt wanted to teach his students about aquaponics – a set-up where fish in a tank fertilize squash and strawberries which, in turn, filters the fish’s water before the vegetables are someday served in the school’s cafeteria.
He wanted to show them how the process works, but that takes money, so he turned to the Sand Springs Education Foundation for a $4,000 grant.
“It's groups like the foundation that puts extra stuff like this - that the kids get to use and see that they wouldn't just see in a normal classroom,” he said.
The Sand Springs foundation has 14 members - all volunteers. Some have businesses in town, some have children in the schools; others, not.
There's an executive director, and the superintendent is included, but the common theme is that they all care about the city's schools and the children who attend them.
The group meets once a month over lunch and was started by real estate developer Montie Box 26 years ago.
“Education is a must,” he said. “You show me a young man that's had a little education and I'll show you a young man, or person, or lady that's not in the prison today.”
In a state that lags the rest of the nation in so many key education measurements, Oklahoma's local foundations are the rare bright spot.
“We have more privately-funded local foundations helping our public schools, towns, all across America than any other state, per capita, in the nation. We're number one,” said OU President David Boren.
When Boren, then a U.S. senator, began his Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence in 1986, local school foundations became a focal point. Today, there are 223 of them across the state, from the largest in Oklahoma City and Tulsa to the smallest in Ninnekah.
Karen Rose's job is to help get them started and nurture them along the way.
“And they want to promote excellence, they want to encourage innovation in their community and with the teachers and show support for them in that way,” she said.
Each foundation sets its own goals and ways to reach them.
In Sand Springs, they raise money with a Sandite Hall of Fame dinner in the spring, a golf tournament in the fall, and pick up extra support wherever they can.
Then, they sort through a stack of teacher requests and, every December, choose what they think are the most innovative and beneficial for classroom grants.
Handing out the checks is like Christmas Day.
The Sand Springs foundation has given out $875,000 over the years - including for Schmidt's tank and fish.
But it's never enough.
No foundation can satisfy all that needs to be done in any Oklahoma school system, but it feels good to try.
It's just too important not to - a message Rose carries all across Oklahoma.
“People want to be involved in something they feel that they can make a difference,” she said.
Chances are your school district has an education foundation that would love to have your help. If not, and you'd like to start one, you can get in touch with Rose by emailing email@example.com.