Providing local students with additional learning and developmental opportunities is the mainstay of the ISD 279 Foundation. “We’re a group of community members that serve on the foundation, and our goal is to raise money and support the students of District 279,” says board member Mary Ellen DeBois.
ISD 279 is the fifth-largest school district in the state and serves all or parts of Corcoran, Maple Grove, Osseo, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Dayton, Plymouth and Rogers. It serves approximately 20,000 students, kindergarten through grade 12.
The foundation provides classroom grants that allow teachers to try something new in or outside of the classroom that the traditional school budget doesn’t cover. “It allows creativity; it allows new experiences. And hopefully, enriches their education,” DeBois says.
Twice a year, teachers are able to submit applications for these grants, with an explanation of how the funds would be utilized to students’ benefits. “They come up with some incredible ideas and programs of things that will enhance the students’ education,” DeBois says. All 33 schools in the district are eligible to receive the foundation’s support.
The organization gives out classroom grants each year, sometimes totaling over $75,000. Over the years, funds have been used in many interesting and creative ways, says board member Brian Silverson-Hall. One grant enabled students to communicate with other students in Mexico. “They do some writing back and forth to each other, and then, in spring, they do a trip during spring break, where they go do a little exchange with the other students from Mexico,” Silverson-Hall says. Other programs have allowed students, who are studying writing, to attend a live theatrical production, an opportunity not afforded through the district’s budget.
Financial support for the foundation is garnered through two main fundraising events. A Night Out is a gala that is held every February. (Mark your 2019 calendars for the group’s February 8 gala.) The event gives people in the community an opportunity to learn more about the foundation and support its efforts through donations. Attendees are treated to dinner, entertainment from students and a silent auction. “We typically raise around $30,000, and we have between 250 to 300 community members who come out and support our efforts,” says Silverson-Hall.
Another fundraiser includes the Reading is Fun 5K in August and normally raises about $10,000, which is earmarked for media centers across the school district. For those unable to attend either event, donations are accepted through the foundation’s website. Since its launch in 1991, the foundation has raised over $2.5 million to support the educational experiences of local youth.
To celebrate and recognize the efforts of the foundation, Investment in Youth is held each May and honors students, staff and volunteers in the community who have made a difference. “Each of our 33 school sites nominate an adult and a student from their site to be honored at this event,” Silverson-Hall says. “Our youngest recipient last year was a four-year-old, who had overcome some health issues,” he says.
Having something like this for the school district is crucial to the learning and growing of the students. “We know that there is a limited amount of funding that goes to K-12 education,” Silverson-Hall says. “So what we’re trying to do is both support teachers, but also inspire and spark a love of learning for young people.”