The Peninsula Schools Education Foundation, and other organizations that serve a similar purpose, are filling more gaps in the education process. It could be looked at as both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s a plus because, without PSEF — or groups like Communities in Schools, Backpacks for Kids, Peninsula Hands-On Art or other supplemental programs — our students might not get the top-flight education we all want to believe is possible.
And it’s a negative — really, through no fault of their own — because the state and individual school districts that are struggling with budget cuts can start to rely on those outside programs to provide some of the money or services they should be providing themselves.
It’s an unfortunate sign of the times.
Thankfully, we have a community full of parents and volunteers who willingly give their time, money and energy to mentor students in reading, writing and math, or to make sure they take home a backpack full of food for the weekend so they don’t go hungry while they’re not at school.
The Peninsula Education Schools Foundation is a little bit different because it focuses on teachers and curriculum. It raises money each year, primarily through its Breakfast of Champions, which it held last Thursday morning at Canterwood Golf & Country Club, and it offers classroom support for teachers who have innovative projects or lesson plans.
Take Kopachuck Middle School teacher Alexa Shanafelt for example. She applied for a PSEF grant in 2010 to augment her Cameras for Creativity class for sixth- through eighth-graders. The foundation awarded her a $1,000 grant, and Shanafelt used it to purchase eight cameras and four tripods for students to use in her photography and digitial technology classes.
Dennis Johnson and Kirsten Lee, science teachers at Gig Harbor High School, also were awarded a $1,000 grant last year. They purchased a book, 10 Ph-sensing probes and three Ph probe buffer solutions for a Use of Probeware and Integrated Data Collection classes in the chemistry lab.
The money also is useful outside of the classroom. Lisa Halsan, a P.E. teacher at Goodman Middle School, received a $695 grant in 2009 to purchase individual pedometers for students. The sixth- through eighth-graders were asked to count their steps throughout the day — the recommendation was 10,000 — and Halsan found her students averaged 15 percent of their daily recommendation in their 50-minute P.E. class.
The Peninsula Schools Education Foundation raises about $20,000 each year, and a portion goes to an endowment fund that provides scholarships for graduating high school seniors. The rest goes to teachers like Shanafelt, Johnson, Lee and Halsan, who propose an idea through an application process and then track their progress if they’re awarded a grant. It’s a great system to supplement the education process.
Many local businesses, including The Peninsula Gateway, sponsor a table during the Breakfast of Champions, and a grant recipient typically gets to speak about how they used their award.
Gig Harbor High School music teacher Eric Swanson was the chosen one this year, and he spoke about his purchase of Garage Band software to help students record and compose original scores. He proudly played a sample of one student who recorded a cover of “Santa Baby” with her acoustic guitar and two sets of vocal tracks. Needless to say, it was a hit.
When the economy struggles and certain funding sources dry up, it’s refreshing to see so many who are willing to step forward and provide their knowledge or expertise. Often, it’s not money or a special program that helps to push a student down a particular career path. Sometimes, all it takes is leadership.
The peninsula area is full of leaders, inside our schools and out, and they’re all helping to lead our students down the path to becoming leaders themselves.