Education Foundation makes dreams come true in local school district

Educating young people from kindergarten through graduation is an expensive mission demanding excellence in every area of a student’s school experience.

Recognizing that tax dollars and district budgets cannot meet every need or desire, the Williamsport Area School District Education Foundation (WASDEF) came alive in 2004 to fulfill educational dreams that might never find a funding source.

“It is not the school district,” said Greg Hayes, executive director of the WASDEF since 2010 and the public relations director for the Williamsport Area School District. “It is a separate, non-profit affiliate of the district. Our role is to raise funds for budget enhancements, not budget replacement dollars.”

The foundation, led by a 20-member volunteer board representative of the local community, focuses on five areas of need to enhance the educational experience: scholarships, awards and prizes; capital improvement projects; athletic programming; and educational and cultural programming.

Encouraging innovation in the classroom is an important part of the mission. Its long-standing annual Teacher Mini-Grant Program allows educators to enhance curriculum and instruction through innovative programs and lessons that go beyond departmental budgets.

Grants up to $1,500 per application allow teachers and students to engage in deep learning. To date, the program has provided more than $95,000 in support to classroom programs.

This year WASDEF approved five programs that will receive a total of $6,401 through the teacher mini-grant program.

At the primary level, books will leave the school and hit neighborhood streets with Little Libraries at Stevens Primary School. Lending libraries on outdoor publication racks in safe, strategic areas of the Stevens attendance area will provide increased availability of reading materials to students.

At Cochran Primary School, third graders will design, implement and practice robotics technology using Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts.

Intermediate-level students will benefit from the Emotional Regulation Classroom Toolbox at Lycoming Valley, a counseling initiative to help students deescalate in the classroom using self-regulation and emotional control skills with the help of their teachers.

Seventh graders at Williamsport Area Middle School will make history come alive through the World History Interactive Studio using STEM concepts to create 3D scans and 360-degree videos.

The planetarium at Williamsport Area High School will get an upgrade and reconstruction of its projection system, which can eventually be a part of further enhancements in its future. (See accompanying article for a closer look at the student stars who are taking charge of this project.)

Raising the kind of money that can make a vital difference and achieve maximum impact is community-dependent and -driven, with businesses and individual donors stepping up to contribute funds and in some cases to directly work with students to offer real-world learning opportunities.

2017 graduate Tymir James credits a grant-funded program in his senior year with changing his life and setting the stage for him to be the first in his family to go to college.

Through a franchise development program, James worked with Alabaster Coffee Roaster and Tea Co. owner Karl Fisher to operate and manage a mobile coffee station at WAHS. ” … I could have been labeled a dropout,” James said. Instead, the college freshman said he has “the confidence to be successful in my journey.”

The foundation’s 2016-2017 annual report shows the foundation carrying a healthy asset value. With total revenue of about $413,000 for the school year, $428,000 was granted to WASD.

A first annual campaign will conclude June 30 with the foundation looking to raise funds to match three $10,000 pledges from local donors for the 2018-2019 school year.

Fundraisers will help with that goal. Proceeds from the recent Harlem Wizards annual community event and an annual golf outing in June are traditional moneymakers for the foundation. Raise the Region, hosted by the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania, collected more than $11,000 from 40 donors for the benefit of the foundation last year.

District personnel give as well. Last year 160 teachers, staff and administrators donated more than $50,000 to the foundation through voluntary payroll deduction.

Over the last five years, the foundation raised and allocated more than 1.6 million to benefit the district and its students, Hayes reported.

Its work does not go unnoticed. In 2017, a doctoral study from Point Park University in Pittsburgh named WASDEF as one of the Top 10 Performing School foundations in the state in three categories: total revenue, net assets, and overall financial power.

“That’s a clear validation that we’re doing OK,” Hayes said.

The executive director noted his personal satisfaction with the Return to Glory Capital Campaign, a five-year undertaking that concludes this year. That campaign provided restoration of the football field at the high school and this year a partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology saw the completion of the Legacy Garden, a three-year-project that is home to the more than 250 commemorative bricks that brought in over $25,000 of the nearly 2.35 million raised to date for Return to Glory.

Board President Trisha Gibbons Marty remains energized about the work of the foundation “because we get the opportunity to see results in real time in each and every one of the district’s schools.” She added, “The reward is in seeing those funds have a direct impact across the district.”