In the fall of 2005, a group of parents of students in White Salmon began searching out fundraising opportunities to benefit the three small schools their children attended.
A year later under a board of nine, the White Salmon Valley Education Foundation obtained 501c3 status and began meeting with local Parent-Teacher organizations, alumni associations, and community leaders to ensure collaborative relationships could be developed.
That was more than seven years ago and since then, Anne-Marie Slater, a founding member and executive director, has been overwhelmed by the $1.3 million the entity has been able to contribute to the White Salmon Valley School District in the form of 92 grants.
“We’ll talk to other foundations and people are amazed at what we’ve accomplished in such a short time and my answer is that we have a community here with a history of supporting public education in this town,” Slater said.
Of that $1.3 million, Slater said $755,000 worth had come from grant writing.
The foundation is mostly run by volunteers except for Slater, who was hired on as part-time executive director in 2012. During the organization’s seven-year existence, $23,000 has been spent on grant writing, according to a summary of the foundation’s finances.
Last year, the district was awarded a $1.5 million 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the federal government. Of that $1.5 million, $661,000 has made its way into White Salmon schools thus far, according to Slater.
“A large proportion of the funding we bring in isn’t directly from the community. It’s more of a combination of community donations and grant writing,” Slater said.
When it comes to community contributions, the foundation has held its Gorge Grape Escape fundraiser for seven years and will hold its next installment on Sat., Oct. 5 at 6 pm at the Skyline Hospital event space. Tickets can be purchased at www.the-gorge-grape-escape.com.
According to the foundation website, 65 percent of the grants awarded in 2013 went to curriculum enhancement and 16 percent went to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM, areas. Another 14 percent went to arts, music, drama, or visual arts and the remaining 5 percent went to teacher leadership.
Broken down by school, 67 percent of the foundation grants in 2013 benefitted schools across the district as a whole. Henkle Middle School received 12 percent, Columbia High School got 11 percent, and Whitson Elementary ended up with 7 percent.
Slater said there are two grant cycles teachers can apply to every school year. After the administrator at the teacher’s respective school backs the grant proposal, it is forwarded to a grant review committee comprised of two community members, two teachers, and one foundation board member.
The committee gives priority to projects that expand experience with technology, support “real world” projects, support pilot programs, help teachers instruct to all types of learning styles, connect students with larger communities, or enhance teachers through professional development, according to the foundation website.
“We want to expand students’ use of technology and we want them to have hands-on team projects so they work together, share ideas, and come to a solution,” Slater said. “Students also learn in different ways. Some have to move, some sing a song, some need to write it or see it, some need to work it out in poetry.”
The grant committee also gives priority to projects that will continue to benefit students over the years. In 2013, $30,000 worth of Google Chromebooks were purchased through a foundation grant, according to the website. Another $8,574 was granted to update the school’s science labs.
Additionally, $8,212 was used to install wireless internet at Whitson Elementary and Henkle Middle. Another $2,200 went to Whitson for Little Bits science activities, and $1,500 was granted to Whitson for teacher leadership development.
On the smaller scale, Henkle was also given $875 for Strong Climate Part 2 to reinforce positive social behavior and $139 for rugby equipment.
But the foundation isn’t just about helping out students now. Slater said 25 percent of all donations is placed in an endowment. Right now, that endowment is worth $702,995.
“This community steps up and has a resounding and overwhelming desire to help our schools. It’s humbling sometimes how much everyone wants to give support,” Slater said.