2016 Outstanding Program Award Winners
Classroom Closet, Chickasha Public School Foundation
To ensure that every student has the necessary school supplies to be productive in the classroom, the Chickasha Public School Foundation launched the Classroom Closet program in 2015. The program provides school supplies for all 2,500 students enrolled in Chickasha Public Schools, regardless of income level, and helps reduce the financial burden for Chickasha teachers, many of whom reported spending $100 to $400 in past years to personally provide school supplies for students in need.
Foundation secretary Judy Duprez said the foundation has annually donated grants to teachers for classroom enrichment, but this is the first time the Chickasha foundation has sponsored a program affecting every single child and every single teacher. “Since Chickasha has a 77 percent free and reduced lunch rate, the need for this program was great,” she said.
The foundation surveyed each teacher in the district to find out which supplies their students needed and then ordered items in bulk and delivered them to the school sites for distribution on the first day of school. An advisory board, comprised of teachers from each school site, guided the foundation in purchasing items for the Classroom Closet. With support from local businesses, churches and individuals, the foundation donated $50,000 in school supplies in 2015-16. Not only did the program provide back-to-school supplies, but the Classroom Closet, housed in the foundation office, was also open to teachers year-round to restock on materials.
“We believe our efforts have made a great impact in the lives of our students and teachers in our district,” Duprez said. “Every student started this school year with every supply they needed to be successful in the classroom. This closet has greatly cut the out-of-pocket cost for our teachers and has taken over the financial burden that many families struggled with every year.”
She said the program has drawn the attention of neighboring school foundations, which have expressed an interest in partnering with Chickasha to share in the savings by buying bulk supplies together. “With the budget shortfall facing the state, this program could be even more important,” Duprez added.
The Robert S. Gee Scholarship Program, Miami Public Schools Enrichment Foundation
The Robert S. Gee Scholarship Program, sponsored by the Miami Public Schools Enrichment Foundation, was established in 2005 to provide both financial and mentoring support to help launch students toward personal and academic success.
“The program seeks out students in eighth through 12th grades who have shown a high degree of academic ability but whose socio-economic situation presents barriers to reaching their full potential,” said longtime program chairman Ginny Stinson.
To participate, students must be nominated by a teacher and be eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program. Students selected for the program receive intensive mentoring from both a teacher mentor and community mentor, who is often a foundation board member. The student and his or her mentors establish their own mentoring schedules, and the chairperson of the Gee Scholarship Committee meets with each student on a regular basis to track his or her progress.
Scholars also receive financial assistance to pursue academic and extracurricular activities. Once selected, the students remain in the program throughout high school. The program is funded from community donations and interest income from the Gee Scholarship Fund, providing approximately $500 to $700 per year to each student for school-related expenses, which must be approved by the scholarship committee.
“Appropriate requests for financial assistance include almost anything that assists the student in pursing academic or extracurricular endeavors, such as band, debate, science fair, etc.,” Stinson said. “Senior Gee Scholars often use their funds for college applications, graduation supplies or college enrollment fees.”
Since the program began, it has distributed more than $25,000 to 30 Gee Scholars. Stinson said the program’s success can be measured by the strong community support and the many Gee Scholars who have been admitted to college, including two who received full-ride college scholarships.
“Gee Scholars themselves help raise funds and general community support for the program by sharing their stories and plans for the future at the foundation’s annual fundraising dinner, the Blue Event,” Stinson said.
Artists' Atelier, Education Foundation of Muskogee
The Education Foundation of Muskogee provided funding in 2015 to create the Artists’ Atelier (studio) at the Muskogee Early Childhood Center, which serves four-year-olds. The $6,000 grant provided all furniture and supplies, including easels, aprons, a variety of art media, and storage bureaus for organizing supplies.
“The vision for the Atelier was to have an inspiring place for art where teachers and students could explore their talents in an orderly environment conducive to letting four-year-olds handle paints and other media in the true intent of the Reggio Emilia method,” said Melony Carey, director of secondary education. The Reggio Emelia method was designed by Italian educator Loris Malaguzzi, who believed that personalities are formed at a very early age and that helping children find “the hundred languages” in which to express themselves is imperative to their development. The goal of the Artists’ Atelier project is to replicate the physical environment and teaching methods of the best Reggio schools in Italy and the United States.
“The foundation decided that an investment in our tiny students could possibly make a difference in long-term outcomes for the 350 children who attend preschool there,” Carey said, noting that because of the high poverty rate in Muskogee Public Schools many students do not have access to art lessons, supplies or cultural activities.
Through the Atelier, Muskogee Early Childhood Center teachers use visual and creative arts to engage their students in literacy, math, science and social studies. Classroom concepts are reinforced through drawing, painting, sculpting and a variety of other media. In recognition of its Reggio Emilia program and the new Artists’ Atelier, the Early Childhood Center was honored in 2015 as a National School of Character. Teachers praised the Artists’ Atelier for helping nurture students’ imaginations and reasoning skills.
“Our students are much less fearful of art and more apt to choose the art center now,” said Jana Dunlap, a member of Muskogee’s Arts Integration Professional Learning Community. “They absolutely did not know they could do art. One child exclaimed, ‘I feel like I’m an artist!’ and the teachers are responding, ‘So do I!’”
The Outstanding Program Awards are presented by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a nonprofit organization that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. Among its many programs, the Foundation for Excellence provides free training and resources to new and established local education foundations across the state.