By Debbie Hiscott
From prom to end-of-year school picnics to graduation — and this past weekend, the Falls Church City Memorial Day parade — the pandemic has put so many plans on hold and made our traditions look incredibly different. We know none of these things are more important than looking out for one another and keeping each other safe and healthy. But, that doesn’t keep us from missing each of these events all the same.
The annual Falls Church Education Foundation (FCEF) Spring Gala and Auction is another event on that growing list of things that just couldn’t happen this year, and it’s historically one of my favorites. Sure, it is a ton of work for me and an entire crew of volunteers. By the end of the event, we are all exhausted. But seeing all those friends and neighbors, supportive business leaders, engaged elected officials, and incredible teachers and administrators all glammed up and turning out for a common cause — to raise critical funds that support our schools, educators, and students — makes it all worth it. Every single year.
Funds raised through the gala support ongoing programs, including those that ensure equity of access to things like food, technology, school supplies, and basic necessities that help students succeed, as well as ESOL and Special Education programs that ensure all of our students get the best foundation for learning. The gala also allows the Foundation to support two grant programs: our Advanced Training Grants for staff professional development and our Super Grants, which expand and extend the learning environment for students and staff system-wide. Money raised through the gala also supports teacher recognition awards, including the Falls Church Education Foundation Teacher of the Year (congrats to TJES’ Mrs. McCann for being the 2020 recipient!). At the gala each year, we celebrate all the teachers who are nominated for the awards and treat them and a date for the evening.
And I admit it: I love handing out those checks to the hardest working teachers in the nation. After all they have done to keep things rolling over the past few months, I really did not relish the idea of having to tell them, “Sorry, not this year.” But without the spring gala, grant and teacher recognition awards were looking pretty slim.
This past week, things started looking up, as pictures from past galas flooded my social media accounts as part of the #FCEFVirtualGala. I realized it is not really the fancy party and the dazzling outfits that make the event so special. It’s really the sense of community and the acknowledgement that the hard work was worth it. Even in this crazy time, our friends, neighbors, and businesses are coming together and doing what they can to keep our schools strong. Teachers took time to post videos about how FCEF grants made from funds raised through past galas have enhanced their classrooms. People shared some of their craziest get-ups and hair styles. Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan dug deep for some seriously impressive retro prom photos. And Falls Church’s own Clare and Don’s created, and more FCEF volunteers delivered, a round of refreshments (using CDC-approved safety measures) to celebrate a successful start to the campaign. Folks, you don’t get a much better example of being in this together than that. (And if you are just joining this party, log onto @FCEFoundation on Twitter, #FCEFVirtualGala to see what you missed.)
I’m proud to say, we reached the first milestone of the campaign and raised more than $16,000 in the first week of the virtual gala. All of these funds will go toward teacher grants that, in these uncertain times, are needed more than ever. As the fun continues this week, the kids are getting in on the act, too. I’m looking forward to seeing more amazing posts in the days ahead, each one of them a reminder that although we are socially distanced right now, we are still all together and sharing something special.
So, look out Falls Church City Public Schools principals — things might get a little chilly as we take aim at our next milestone toward our final goal of raising $50,000! And, I can’t wait to see all of your faces for real — glammed up or not — when we hit our target and finally get that parade. Until then, I hope you will all head to @FCEFoundation on Twitter, Falls Church Education Foundation on Facebook, and/or fcefoundation on Instagram and take part in our virtual celebration by posting throwback pictures of yourselves whether from previous galas, proms, or other celebrations. And, I hope you will all join me on the dance floor when it is safe to host the gala again. Learn more about the virtual gala at https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/fcef-virtual-gala.
Debbie Hiscott is the executive director of the Falls Church Education Foundation