When Ashland Schools Foundation executive director Susan Bacon sat down with a select group of district leaders to brainstorm what sorts of programs the foundation would kick-start if cost was not a factor, one idea spoke to everyone in the room.
After-school programs for elementary students, they decided, could make a real difference locally. So Bacon found a willing partner in Southern Oregon University’s Youth Programs, and on May 17 ASF’s board voted to approve fundraising for the pilot after-school enrichment program, which is set to begin enrolling its first crop of students at the start of the upcoming 2017-18 school year.
The program, funded entirely by ASF, will cost $55,000 to get off the ground and be available at Walker Elementary, Bellview Elementary and Helman Elementary. To participate, families will be charged $20 per student, per six-week course, with a 60 percent scholarship rate for low-income families.
If the program’s a success and funds allow, Bacon said, John Muir School and Willow Wind Community Learning Center could be phased in as soon as the following school year.
“The ASF board has had a lot of conversations over the past year about where our money is currently going and really took a strong look at where else might it do more,” Bacon said. “Currently, the majority of our money goes toward extra teachers, specialists and educational assistants in the schools, and that kind of came out of the whole giant budget cuts 10 to 15 years ago when we started rescuing positions. It just kind of stayed there and we hadn’t really done a huge assessment for a while so we started thinking — ‘things aren’t great, but they’re better.’”
A 501(c)3 nonprofit, ASF was established in 1989 to improve the quality of local schools by funding enrichment programs, scholarships and special projects, but its role has evolved and it’s since become a local defense against reduced state funding for K-12 education.
In recent years ASF has raised about $250,000 a year and is aiming to hit $225,000 this year, but that goal does not include the new after-school program, so Bacon and the rest of the ASF staff are hitting the phones hard in an effort to find enough money to make the program a permanent fixture rather than just a one-year wonder. The straightest path to that destination, she said, involves convincing parents of elementary school students that an after-school program similar to Walker’s popular Pathways program, which closed its doors in 2015, is worth their time and investment.
“I have foundations that I’m approaching and asking for support and a couple corporate sponsors that I’m talking to,” Bacon said, “but we’re really hoping the elementary parents will step forward and help make this happen. Because the reality is, the grants and corporate sponsorships are not going to be long term, so we need a more self-supporting program.”
The after-school program, conceived during a brainstorming session by a group of local district leaders that included interim Superintendent Suzanne Cusick, three school board members and representatives from each school, would likely have died in the womb without the support of SOU Youth Programs Director Rachel Jones.
Bacon approached Jones with the idea, and the two decided it would be a good fit. That was a game-changer for ASF because, along with running academic competitions like Brain Bowl and Scavenger Hunt, and the Academy Program, Youth Programs also operates and staffs enrichment classes over the summer. Bacon had hoped that Youth Programs could step in to run the program, using resources it already had in place. Jones jumped on board and, in a happy coincidence, Bacon made her pitch just as Youth Programs was preparing to hire a seasonal employee to run its summer classes. That new hire, it was determined, could stay on with Youth Programs through the 2017-18 school year to administer the program.
“We’ll be overseeing the implementation,” Jones said. “So we’ll work with the school district and the Ashland Schools Foundation to develop what the pilot’s going to look like, working with the schools to determine what their space availability is, thinking about the culture at each school to make sure and develop something that’s a really good fit at each of the locations.”
Jones and Bacon will be meeting with the principals of each of the schools in late June to “refine our planning,” said Jones, and address any questions or concerns. Soon thereafter, Jones will visit each school. The next two months will be a mad dash to implement the program — a process that will include deciding which classes should be offered at which schools, securing instructors and ironing out a schedule.
“It is a quick turnaround,” Jones said, “but at the same time, we run classes all summer long for youth and have been for many years, so we’re pretty well versed. We’ve already got an online registration system set up, we’re already equipped to process payments and scholarships, all of those kind of nuts and bolts pieces of what it means to run a program. And we’ve already got a really great roster of instructors.”
The program will include fall, winter and spring sessions, with eight different courses offered at each site during each session. Class types will vary and depend largely on teachers’ proposals, but Bacon said the plan is to have “a mix of academic and enrichment courses.” Subjects may include science inquiry classes, arts, movement and creative writing.
It’s a large endeavor, but Jones said it also happens to be right up Youth Programs’ alley.
“I think Susan was not sure how I would respond,” Jones said. “But it fits really squarely within our mission. It enables us to reach a lot of students, and particularly … it’s being designed to serve students who don’t have the financial means to participate in extracurricular enrichment. That’s very important to us and we know that there are students who, although we do provide tuition assistance for families, don’t participate in our summer programs because of financial barriers or transportation barriers. This is taking the programs to the kids at the schools.”
Those who wish to donate to Ashland Schools Foundation can visit its website, www.ashlandschoolsfoundation.org and click on the “Donate now!” button.