VB Education Foundation Kickoff LunchFriday, November 15, 2019 10:30 am
VBSD Education Foundation Kicks Off New Campaign
By BENNETT HORNE
Van Buren School District News
The Van Buren School District Education Foundation surpassed the $1 million mark in grants awarded last year and kicked off its 2019-20 campaign earlier this month with an eye toward the next million.
The 19th Annual Kick-off Luncheon was held Nov. 5 at Heritage United Methodist Church and featured demonstrations of classroom projects developed through previous grants handed out by the foundation, which has now awarded 754 grants totaling $1,014,636.
Each year applications for grants are submitted to the foundation by teachers from all 11 schools within the Van Buren School District.
“Our teachers dream big and we want to fund what they need,” foundation Executive Director Debbie Thomas said, “because you and I both know if we’re ever going to change the world it’s going to be by education.”
Grants are handed out two times during the school year by the foundation’s Pointer Patrol.
Last year the foundation awarded 43 grants for over $50,000, helping teachers fund projects that make learning easier and more interesting – and therefore more successful – for the approximately 5,800 students in the district.
“The education foundation allows us to be super creative in what we want to spend money on,” said Parkview Elementary School Assistant Principal Renee Henson. “We sit in the teacher’s lounge, or go to ballgames, or when we have teacher duty, and we ask, ‘What if?’”
One of those “what if” questions resulted in an answer that allows the district’s fourth graders the opportunity to experience the great outdoors.
“What if we could take every fourth grade student to camp?” was the question, she recalled. “We just believed about 15 or 16 years ago that every kid in Van Buren needed to know what it was like to roast a marshmallow, or do a camp skit, or spend the night in a sleeping bag. And so we said, ‘What if we wrote an education foundation grant and talked to the school board and asked if we could just try it with one school and see what happens.’ Since then we’ve had over 5,000 Van Buren kids get to go to fourth grade camp.”
The grant process is also growing – literally and figuratively – big results from little ideas.
“Seven or eight years ago we bought just a little indoor greenhouse,” she said. “Last year we picked up acorns and grew oak trees and gave them away all because of education foundation money.”
She continued, “So whether it’s helping kids figure out what they want to do when they grow up or buying cool coding caterpillars or saying to a kid, ‘You don’t have a sleeping bag? That’s ok, we can get one and go to camp,’ or having a kid plant an oak tree in their front yard because they had an indoor greenhouse where they could plant an acorn and grow a tree. That’s what the education foundation does. It allows teachers to be as creative as they can imagine.”
Henson said she couldn’t remember how many education foundation grants she has received in her many years as an educator in Van Buren’s district, but she did know they’ve all gone to improve her students’ educational experiences.
“We’ve done amazing things with them,” she said. “We’ve taken kids to eat at Colton’s so they can learn how to use a salad fork. That’s a skill, isn’t it? No matter where you are or what you do, if you go to a nice restaurant or banquet you need to know what it’s like to use a salad fork and we have kids who don’t know that because they’ve never had those kind of experiences.”
It’s a process, she said, that allows teachers to give more opportunities to their students.
“How can you really say what education foundation money does?” she said. “It changes lives. I’ll believe that until, well, to whenever. The education foundation has allowed me as a teacher and educator to do things I would never have been able to do but, more importantly, it’s given our students and our kids in Van Buren, Arkansas, amazing opportunities. Things they would have never gotten to do.”
She added, “You can never know the impact it makes on students and their families.”
Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst said he likes to think about the great things Van Buren has to offer and that one of them is the education foundation.
“We have a lot of positives in our community and the education foundation is absolutely one of them,” he said. “The teachers are impacting students.”
Van Buren Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat said because of the education foundation “we are able to accomplish a lot of things in our district.”
He added, “We are in the business of trying our very best to provide the best education that we can provide for our kids and you know it goes far beyond just the academics. The social and emotional aspects ... there’s so much that’s involved in providing a great education. We realize there’s just no way we could be able to accomplish as much as we’ve been able to accomplish without the education foundation’s help and support and we genuinely appreciate that.”
Thomas, who was recently inducted into the district’s Hall of Honor, along with former Van Buren coach Gary Deffenbaugh, said, “(VBHS Principal) Eddie Tipton was talking about Coach Deffenbaugh and me and the programs we’re doing and he said, ‘We’ve not helped a hundred kids, we’ve helped thousands.’ I was touched by that to think this foundation has touched thousands of kids.”