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Philanthropy’s quiet role in public education

Quality public education is in my DNA, as well as in that of many caring Jackson County residents, whether they have school-age children or not. I spent 37 years as a teacher and administrator in the Medford school system and want to emphasize that, while it is Oregon’s constitutional responsibility to provide the basics of student instruction, generous donors and volunteers play a vital support role in unseen ways.

Schools wouldn’t be what they are today without philanthropic assistance. Local student enrollments have grown substantially in the past 20 years, and dollars are stretched painfully thin. While more people are paying more taxes, that doesn’t cover everything modern schools and students need.

One way civic-minded individuals and businesses can engage effectively with schools is to channel some of their charitable giving through The Oregon Community Foundation, which maintains an active regional office in Medford. OCF helps students and families in three ways: (1) by making direct grants to schools, (2) by making grants to local nonprofits that provide needed programs in schools, and (3) by making grants to community-based organizations that offer support outside school walls. Here are some examples from 2015.

Public schools’ responsibility for education begins at kindergarten, but some children don’t arrive completely ready to learn and quickly lag behind. Jackson Elementary School’s groundbreaking Early Learning Program in Medford received $100,000 to connect preschoolers to grades K-3. Among many other things, youngsters acquire basic learning and socialization skills, easing their transition to formal instruction.

Because of language barriers, home-life situations, poverty and other factors, some students just need more help than classroom teachers can provide. The Kids Unlimited Academy charter school used its $90,000 award to provide onsite counselors and mental health services, and the Southern Oregon Educational Service District received $4,000 to support Latino students in the popular JUNTOS program.

One totally grant-funded effort I helped establish in the late 1980s is still going strong with OCF support. The Teen Parent Program (TPP) at North Medford High receives financial support for a nurse to help student-parents learn how to care for their babies while remaining in school. While not a core function of public education, the TPP works perfectly with Child Development classes in which students apply their classroom learning by rotating between the preschool program and the classroom.

Several local nonprofits get OCF grants to bring needed services into schools. With its $30,000 annual award, Ashland Community Hospital hires nurses in Ashland and Talent elementary and middle schools to do everything from coordinating grief-counseling groups for struggling youth to talking with parents about immunization. La Clinica provides dental health education, screening and more to 18 Jackson County schools, mostly in Medford, with its $205,800 grant.

The well-regarded Maslow Project offers support services to homeless students through a $110,000 allocation. The SMART Program provides reading assistance in Jackson County schools, and the Southern Oregon Child and Family Council coordinates family literacy programs at Central Medford High and in White City.

Arts education programs have been slashed in many schools and nonprofit organizations can help fill the gap. Through a $3,200 grant, the Rogue Gallery and Art Center provides an elementary school art program in three schools and at its downtown Medford gallery; and the Ashland Art Center is in the middle of a multi-year, $280,000 Studio-to-School grant at Ashland Middle School that brings local artists and their expertise in the visual, performing and culinary arts into the school.

Grants to nonprofits that offer services to students and families off-campus are almost too numerous to mention. They include YMCA after-school programs all over the Rogue Valley, Hearts with a Mission and Magdalene Home shelters for teens in Medford, and HOPE Equestrian’s riding program for Kids Unlimited Academy students. Among other things, the Jackson County United Way’s Hope Chest Fund for emergencies paid for a student’s missing textbooks so he could graduate from high school.

Of course, all of this financial support doesn’t include the scores of college scholarships OCF donors provide for local students. In Southern Oregon alone that totals nearly $1 million per year, with a large portion going to Medford youth. If you want to get the greatest return on an investment in public education, consider aligning with OCF.

Among other posts in the Medford School District, Linda Evans was assistant principal at North Medford High School until her retirement in 1997. She has worked closely with The Oregon Community Foundation and is a past member of OCF’s Southern Oregon Leadership Council and The Reed and Carolee Walker Fund Advisory Committee.