Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Innovation Flourishes with F.C. Education Foundation

By Cecily Shea

The Falls Church Education Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2004 to support the Falls Church City Public Schools, thanks the local businesses, community leaders, and supporters of the “Little City” schools for their tremendous support during the 2014-15 academic year. The incredible generosity of donors and supporters for the annual gala, Run for the Schools and academic boosters program made it possible for the foundation to award nearly $250,000 for FCCPS programs and scholarships.

Foundation efforts are organized around three pillars of support to the school community, including ensuring equity of access for all students, preparation for the modern world, and staff readiness.

Equity of Access

The foundation, in collaboration with F.C. City Schools, provides funding for afterschool, weekend, and summer services to support English for Speakers of Other Languages and/or economically disadvantaged students and families. The foundation funds K-12 programs including: afterschool academic and mentoring support; weekend/holiday/summer “No Holidays for Hunger” program, which supplies meals; internet “hotspots” for families without access; contributions to the school’s Emergency Fund; and summer camp experiences for elementary ESOL students at Falls Church Parks and Recreation camps. The support ensures that we do our best to level the playing field for those in our community who need it most.

One of the advantages of an independent organization like the foundation is that people with visionary ideas can provide seed funding for innovative programs, which then have a chance to flourish. The “Wilden After School Program” is an excellent example of such a vision. It was established by Bob Wilden in honor of his wife, Imogene, in 2005. The program successfully provided afterschool academic support built around the use of technology to support disadvantaged or at-risk students.

While the Wilden funds were depleted over time, the foundation has continued to use funds raised to expand on the original program’s technology support concept. These efforts have blossomed into four foundation-supported afterschool programs, all of which are considered part of the “Wilden Program.” The program at Mary Ellen Henderson is now called HERO, George Mason High School (MAX) began 2013-14, and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School (TOPS) and Mt. Daniel Elementary School (HUGS) were added in 2014-15. All of these programs focus on providing afterschool academic support to disadvantaged or at-risk students.

Preparation for the Modern World

The Falls Church Education Foundation began its first ever “Super Grants” program during 2014-15 and was honored to support the creation of [email protected], Market to Grow at George Mason, as well as providing audio-visual equipment to Mason, Spanish language equipment to Henderson and reading programs to TJ and Mt. Daniel. The foundation also serves as the steward for scholarships for GMHS graduates that support the next level of education in areas of study such as journalism, education, career and technical education, photography, and the arts. Additionally, it provides anti-bullying and diversity training through the Benton Fund.

Staff Readiness

One of the main reasons why our City’s public schools excel is because of their highly qualified teachers. Accordingly, the foundation works in cooperation with the schools’ administration to support staff professional development. Through the generosity of many donors and Falls Church visionaries, the foundation operates several funds begun by community activists and leaders. They include, but are not limited to, the Nancy and Steve Sprague Teacher Leadership Fund that supports professional staff development and the Louis T. Olom Fund that focuses on Level 2 and 3 International Baccalaureate teacher training. The “Super Grants” also provide staff with the resources to take their teaching to the next level. Teachers who have ideas for new, innovative, or more effective programs are able to use the grants to bring them to life in the classroom.

Lastly, it is important to point out that the foundation works closely with the school administration to: (1) determine the needs of the school system and how to meet them;, and, (2) ensure that funds are spent according to the agreements in place with the donors. The foundation has an annual audit conducted by an independent accounting firm to ensure that its operations conform with its obligations.

For more information about Falls Church Education Foundation programs, scholarships and events, please visit www.fcedf.org or contact any of our volunteer Board of Directors members or Executive Director, Debbie Hiscott, at [email protected] I look forward to seeing you out on the course in the heart of Falls Church for the foundation’s 11th annual Run for the Schools on Sunday, September 20. For information on sponsorship, check out the website and to register please go to www.fcedf.org/runfortheschools.

 


Cecily Shea is preseident of the Falls Church Education Foundation Board of Directors.