Filling in the Gaps: Simi Valley Ed Foundation

Maria Baro wasn’t wearing make-up.

And it was Ponytail Thursday.

From left, teacher Christieann Rohal (left) and Principal Nora Kuntz (right) enjoy the moment when teacher Maria Baro realizes she was named Teacher of the Month on Sept. 4.

But that didn’t stop a small horde of people from invading this third-grade teacher’s staff meeting with cameras and gifts in order to honor her as Teacher of the Month earlier this month.

Maria, humbled and embarrassed, insisted that any good coming from her efforts was a reflection of the talent and dedication shown by ALL of her co-workers at Crestview Elementary School.

The award is the most recent program implemented by the Simi Valley Education Foundation to help public schools throughout the Simi Valley Unified School District and to honor staff and teachers who do great work. Maria is the first recipient of the award; it will be handed out monthly through the end of the school year.

Founded in 1989 by Lew Roth, a Simi Valley school board trustee for 23 years, the foundation raises money through private donations, corporate gifts and community/special events. The money raised is then returned directly to the schools in the district through grants, scholarships and special programs. Not affiliated directly with the district or any one school, the district does support the foundation, which had donated more than $600,000 through its efforts.

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Brian Miller, president-elect of the Simi Valley Education Foundation honors Maria Baro for her work.

Next week, on Sept. 19, another annual fundraising is scheduled. The Tee-Up For Kids Golf Tournament will be held at the Lost Canyons Golf Course. (For more information, go to www.svef.org.)

In January, the annual Lew Roth Awards Dinner will honor teachers and staff from Simi Valley schools for their contributions. The foundation gathers and evaluates the nominations and the awardees are announced at the dinner.

Another major fundraiser for the foundation is the Celebration of Education Gala, held usually in March, but not yet scheduled for 2015. This is the primary community fundraiser and features a big theme party, complete with auctions and special events.

The foundation also works with many area business to secure grants and donations. Alcoa Fastening Systems, Bank of America and a program that brought together most of the new and used automobile dealers in the city are just some of supporters for the foundation.

One of the biggest impacts the foundation has on local education is found with its Classroom Enhancement Grants.

Last year, the foundation awarded 91 recipients more than $50,000 in grants. Teachers apply for these grants to fund specific classroom needs. Examples include incubators for hatching ducklings, play mats for a kindergarten classroom, maps, books, science equipment, computer software and music curriculum. This is just a small sampling of the hundreds of classroom needs the foundation has supported over the years for Simi’s teachers.

This year’s grant applications are due Oct. 10. The foundation tries to fund as many as possible, and concentrates on those projects/needs that have the greatest impact on the classroom, either by longevity or breadth.

Student scholarships are also given each year, and again, information is found on the website.

Teachers’ Wishes Come True with DonorsChoose

Caroline Hardeman, a sixth grade teacher at Hollow Hills Elementary School, shows off her new class seismograph, purchased through donations over DonorsChoose.org.
Caroline Hardeman, a sixth grade teacher at Hollow Hills Elementary School, shows off her new class seismograph, purchased through donations over DonorsChoose.org.

Caroline Hardeman is no novice to classroom fundraising.

Over the years, the veteran sixth-grade teacher has proudly pursued any opportunity to help fund different material needs that arise from her ever-expanding repertoire of science lessons. Sometimes the hunt for funds ended successfully and quickly. Other times, it felt like wasted time.

Until she discovered DonorsChoose.org.

The clouds parted and the angels sang as much-needed supplies and equipment found their way to Classroom A6 at Hollow Hills.

“It’s so easy,” she said. “Your school community wants to help you and you just have to let them know what you need.”

DonorsChoose is a non-profit company that enables public school teachers (and only teachers) throughout the country to create fundraising campaigns to buy specific classroom supplies through charitable donations.

Teachers “shop” for what they need through Amazon. Then they create a campaign–a webpage on the DonorsChoose site where they write about what they want for their classroom and why, set a funding goal and a time limit. Outreach comes next, with many teachers using Facebook and other social media to get the word out to parents. Some send notes home or ask parents directly.

Donors give directly through the DonorsChoose website, eliminating the need for the schools or districts to monitor the money received. The donations are banked in an account for the teacher and when the goal is met, the teacher can order the supplies and materials directly through Amazon. DonorsChoose handles all of the tax notices; all donations are charitable deductions. Should a goal not be met for a specific campaign, the money that is raised is banked for the teacher to use for other supplies.

In the last year, Hardeman has launched four campaigns, all successful. Her requests included a seismograph ($938), a tectonics demonstration model and lab supplies to teach about earthquakes ($878) and supplies for starting a school garden and compost center ($993). And last month, Hardeman raised $2,051 to purchase an wall-mounted projector for her classroom that replaces some aging equipment.

“I’m winning grants left and right,” she said. “None of my grants have been online for more than a week.”

One of the best aspects of DonorsChoose is that they’ve formed partnerships with foundations and corporations to help fund specific projects. In Hardeman’s case, three of her four campaigns were partly funded with matching grants, two from Disney and one from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That means that less money is needed from parents and friends to fund a campaign.

“With the matching funds, it’s the easiest thing ever,” she said. “You go shopping online and start small. I donate first (on my own campaigns). You can link to FaceBook from the DonorsChoose page. If you have a parent in the class who wants to let people know, I link to the parent on the PTA website.”

Sixth grade teacher Holly Dye uses DonorsChoose to supplement her English classroom's reading materials.
Sixth grade teacher Holly Dye uses DonorsChoose to supplement her English classroom’s reading materials.

Hardeman’s teaching partner, Holly Dye, used DonorsChoose a couple of years ago to fund a classroom set of mythology books. Thirty-six copies of “D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths” sit proudly on Dye’s shelf.

Dye also used DonorsChoose to buy masks and graphic novels for her classroom.

Currently, only three schools hosting five campaigns from Simi Valley are posted on the website. Requests include math supplies, iPad Minis, books and science materials. (You can search locally for teachers in need.)

Hardeman said it’s important to have good relationships with the class parents, a current email list and to send thank-you notes on time. (The thank-you notes are a requirement of DonorsChoose.)

DonorsChoose supports itself through a voluntary contribution added to the teacher’s campaign. Suggested at 15%, the donation is enough to support the 14-year-old company.

DonorsChoose launched in 2000 when a New York City history teacher, Charles Best, developed a website to collect class donations from others in lieu of continuing to spend his own money on supplies. Since then, DonorsChoose has raised more than $260 million for almost 200,000 public school teachers in almost 58,000 schools. Altogether, 488,139 projects have been funded through DonorsChoose. (For some interesting stats on DonorsChoose, click HERE.)

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