2014 Outstanding Program Award Winners
Students Striving for Success, El Reno Public School Foundation
When Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence designated 2013 as Oklahoma’s “Year of the Mentor,” the El Reno Public Schools Foundation accepted the challenge and developed a mentoring program to meet the unique needs of their district. With a $10,000 budget and strong support from the community, the foundation formed Students Striving for Success with the mission of “connecting the family, school and community to inspire students to be all they can be.”
The foundation partnered with the school district to hire a program director and to work with administrators and teachers to identify students who would benefit most from mentoring. The program began in fall 2013 serving 100 students and now serves 150 students in first through seventh grades. Each volunteer mentor must pass a background check, complete mentor training and commit to meet consistently with his or her student for one hour each week.
“Our emphasis is on reading. Each week we meet with our mentee and spend most of the hour reading, with leftover time spent building relationships with the student,” said Dana Gibson, who is a mentor and board member. “This (relationship-building) time is the most important gift we can give each student.”
In its first year, the program has hosted an orientation for mentees and families, a volunteer appreciation event and an end-of-school gathering. While it is too soon to track the academic impact of the program, Gibson says, “there is a sense of accomplishment and much talk about relationship building throughout our schools.” Future plans for the program include offering more opportunities for parental involvement. “We would like for each mentor to be able to build a relationship with the families, which in turn will ensure a brighter future for our students.”
Brainiac Brawl, Claremore Public Schools Foundation
The second outstanding program award recipient is the Brainiac Brawl, an annual trivia bowl for adults that has become the Claremore Public Schools Foundation’s biggest annual fundraiser. Through the trivia bowl, 30 teams of eight compete in six rounds to be Brainiac Champions and earn a coveted traveling trophy. The trivia questions are written by students from Claremore High School Academic Team. Brainiac Brawl teams may purchase up to two $25 “Mulligan” stickers to receive credit on questions they are unable to answer.
“Our goals each year are to raise money to support our programs and to educate our guests about our foundation’s mission,” said Marla Lillie, executive director of the Claremore Public Schools Foundation. “It is a very popular event in our community and has sold out well in advance of the event for the past four years.”
In conjunction with the academic competition, teams participate in a table decorating and costume competition and are encouraged to run a “down and dirty” campaign to solicit votes for their tables. Each dollar equals one vote. Themes in 2014 ranged from Mardi Gras and “Gilligan’s Island” to “The Wizard of Oz” and carnival characters. The event also includes a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle, in which the winner receives 50 percent of the raffle contributions. Contributions to the silent auction have included vacation getaways, a full set of braces from a local orthodontist and a trustee wine basket featuring favorite wines of all foundation board members.
The Brainiac Brawl netted more than $30,000 in 2014 and has raised more than $114,000 over the past five years. “The Brainiac Brawl has been a very successful event in our community that celebrates how much fun it is to be a Brainiac,” Lillie said.
Pillars Program, Lawton Public School Foundation
The third winner of the 2014 Outstanding Program Award is the Pillar Program sponsored by the Lawton Public School Foundation. The program was established to meet the increasing needs of the district brought about by the decrease in state funding for public schools. Previously the foundation’s only fundraising event had been a breakfast, which raised about $15,000 each year. “The Pillar Program was created in an effort to exponentially increase the base funding of our foundation in order to address increasing needs for technology, materials and programs, and extracurricular activities in our district,” said Heather Clement, a foundation board member. “Like a pillar, each donor will add support and strength to Lawton Public Schools by increasing funding in these areas.”
The foundation has reached out to the community to become Pillar Members. Pillar memberships are $1,000 per year for businesses, churches and organizations; $500 for individuals and $250 for current and former Lawton Public Schools employees. Each Pillar member can designate 50 percent of his or her gift to one of three categories: technology, programs and instructional materials, or extracurricular activities. Donors also receive Pillar Member yard signs to display at their home or place of business. The foundation held a formal kickoff event in spring 2012 and invited the community to learn more about the program. Teachers and students were on hand to demonstrate how they have benefited from foundation grants and funding. The goal of the program is to raise $1 million over the first five years.
“The success of our new Pillar Program, combined with our always successful breakfast fundraiser, has allowed us to invest over $185,000 in our schools in just the last few months,” Clement said. The program has provided $125,000 (including matching grant funds from the McMahon Foundation) for technology updates districtwide; $25,000 in grants for teachers; $13,875 for extracurricular activities, including field trips, competitions, conventions and equipment; and more than $16,000 for special programs and materials.
“The board was also able to increase our endowment by an additional $42,924,” Clement said. “The Lawton Public School Foundation understands that a quality education is critical to a quality community, and the success of the Pillar Program and our annual breakfast fundraiser proves that our community supports our efforts to make a difference in the lives of students throughout the district.”