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October 4, 2018 -- Three Public School Foundation Programs to Be Recognized for Outstanding Achievement

by OFE | 2018-10-05 17:08:29

An innovative teacher support partnership, an English literacy program for parents and a pioneering robotics program have been selected as recipients of the 2018 Outstanding Program Awards for Oklahoma School Foundations presented by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and its Oklahoma School Foundations Network.

The awards, which recognize innovative programs sponsored or administered by public school foundations in Oklahoma, will be presented at upcoming regional meetings sponsored by the Oklahoma School Foundations Network.  Receiving plaques and monetary awards of $1,000 each will be the DonorsChoose.org Partnership KICKSTART Campaign sponsored by the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, the English Language Literacy Program for Parents sponsored by Putnam City Schools Foundation and the VEX IQ Robotics STEAM Middle School Program sponsored by Sayre Public School Foundation.

“We are honoring these programs for their creativity and the positive impact they have in supporting academic excellence in their communities,” said Donna Alexander, director of the Oklahoma School Foundations Network. “In addition, we will recognize these innovative programs among their peers at regional meetings so that other school foundations might emulate or adapt these ideas in their own school districts.”


DonorsChoose.org Partnership KICKSTART Program
Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools


Small groups in Michelle Bobbitt’s Ridgeview Elementary kindergarten class use Apple iPads they received through a partnership between the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and DonorsChoose.org. 

In November 2014, the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools launched a partnership with DonorsChoose.org, a national nonprofit crowdfunding website through which teachers seek donations for classroom supplies or projects. The foundation began its partnership by providing matching funds to inspire citizen donations for Oklahoma City teacher projects. Requests range from classroom technology and books to art supplies and science equipment.

“Matching dollars drove teachers to create projects at a higher rate than we ever dreamed possible,” said Mary Mélon, president and CEO of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. To build on the program’s success and increase the number of Oklahoma City teachers utilizing the platform, the foundation changed its sponsorship approach and launched its DonorsChoose.org KICKSTART campaign in 2017, offering a $250 gift to “kick start” every teacher’s first DonorsChoose.org project each academic year.

“This program helps level the playing field for teachers and provides access to in-state and out-of-state donors,” said Mélon, noting that the Oklahoma City foundation has the largest education foundation partnership with DonorsChoose.org in the nation.

Since 2014, the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools has contributed $750,000 to support district DonorsChoose.org projects. Together with citizen donations, more than $2.8 million has been contributed to support 4,743 classroom projects in Oklahoma City Public Schools since 2014.  Of that total, more than $1 million came from out-of-state donors.

Every school in the district is engaged in the DonorsChoose.org program, and many have Teacher Ambassadors who champion efforts among their colleagues. The foundation also promotes the program through social media, print media and annual events. The project is increasing the visibility of the district and leveraging dollars it wouldn’t see without the platform, Mélon said.

“DonorsChoose.org gives our district access to a national network of over 3 million citizen donors and other large corporations,” she said. “This partnership continues to be a new and innovative way for our teachers to get their true needs met.” 

English Language Literacy Program for Parents
Putnam City Schools Foundation

To help support academic achievement for English Learner students and their families, the Putnam City Schools Foundation began sponsoring a free English Language Literacy Program for Parents in 2013. The classes are offered by certified district English Learner instructors twice each week during the academic year, providing more than 215 hours of instruction.


Graduates of the English Language Literacy Program for Parents sponsored by the Putnam City Schools Foundation display certificates they received last May upon graduation. 

“Today, Putnam City Schools has more children from diverse backgrounds than ever before,” said Board President Roger Cude, adding that 62 different languages are spoken by district families. “Since parents are a child’s first teacher, our efforts to equip them with English enable parents to feel more comfortable in our schools and more comfortable helping their children with homework. They participate more in teacher conferences and attend more school events as a result.”

Teachers identify parents who may benefit from the classes and provide them a flyer, written in their native language, about the free program. Upon joining the program, parents’ English literacy skills are tested by certified instructors, and they are placed in one of four learning levels. While parents learn English through a civics and financial literacy curriculum, their school-aged children receive tutoring and homework assistance. Childcare is provided for younger children. The classes are held at a local school with a high enrollment of English Learner families.

At the mid-point of the classes, parents are re-tested and re-leveled as needed. At the end of the year, participants celebrate their success with a potluck dinner and receive a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution from the foundation.

A majority of parents who take the classes advance to the next level, Cude said, and those who don’t can stay at their current level and continue working toward the benchmark. In post instruction surveys, participants have reported improving their family’s financial position because of improved English literacy, feeling a stronger connection to their school community and being better equipped to help their children with homework. Major support for the program has been made possible by the Kirkpatrick Foundation, the Gaylord Foundation and Bank of the West.

“Through this program, students get the emotional security that comes with parent guidance, which is a proven marker of academic success as well as emotional growth,” Cude said.

VEX IQ Robotics STEAM Middle School Program
Sayre Public School Foundation 


Members of Sayre Middle School’s Robotics team compete in a VEX IQ Robotics tournament. 

To instill an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM), the Sayre Public School Foundation established the district’s first robotics program in 2016 at Sayre Middle School.

“The objective of the program is for students to explore the fundamentals of robotics and the engineering design process while learning key STEAM principles,” said Jeannene Blevins, president of Sayre Public School Foundation. “When students learn through exploration, it increases motivation and desire to succeed.”

The foundation and district chose VEX IQ robotics – a plastic snap-together construction system – because the VEX robust, standards-based curriculum extends through the college level.  In 2017, sixth- and seventh-grade students began participating in the program, meeting twice a week during school hours and one afternoon a week after school with the school’s STEAM teacher Jennifer Crabb.

“Robotics integrates all STEAM fields in a way no other subject can,” Crabb said. “Students utilize mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, technology, math and science. They have incorporated art into their projects through video production, multimedia art and drawings in their engineering notebooks.”

Last year, her students began participating in VEX IQ competitions, attending three different competitions and had three teams qualify for the State Championship. “The kids drive the robot building process,” she said. “They continuously impress me with the robots they design and the programming they employ.”

The Sayre Public School Foundation raised support for the program through “Knowledge Open,” an 18-hole golf tournament that features an afternoon competition and evening meal followed by glow-in-the dark golf for the second half of the tournament. Plans are now under way to add a robotics program at Sayre High School.

“Robotics engages students in complex, strategic problem-solving and higher-order thinking – skills that will serve our students well regardless of the career path they choose,” Crabb added.

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, resources and networking opportunities to new and established public school foundations across the state through its Oklahoma School Foundations Network – formerly Local Education Foundation Outreach program.

For more information on Outstanding Program Awards or the Oklahoma School Foundations Network, contact Donna Alexander at (405) 834-9049 or email dalexander@ofe.org.