Learn more about the Steamboat Springs Elementary School Challenge Fund at www.sschallengefund.com.
Steamboat Springs Summer Johnston is captivated by how quickly her two young daughters learn to use new technology.
“My 7-year-old can take my iPhone and figure out how to use it,” Johnston said about Grace, a second-grader at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Delaney, Johnston’s fourth-grader, is proficient on the iPad and iPod Touch. “This has become their life and how they operate. They read books on Kindles now. It’s amazing and so fun and cool to see how they embrace it and how their minds adapt.”
Grants from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board already allow Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools to introduce new and innovative technology, such as iPads and Smartboards, into many classrooms each year so students can learn to utilize them at a young age. But Johnston and a group of nine other parents last month launched a private fund they hope will provide even more opportunities for their students to use new technology and have extra staff support as they learn rapidly developing 21st-century skills.
The fund, called the Steamboat Springs Elementary School Challenge Fund, specifically aims to collect $100,000 from parents and community members in its first year that would be distributed equally between the two elementary schools.
“We have to be able to provide our students with these tools and this knowledge as they grow older because this is the world they live in,” said Johnston, the director of Strawberry Park’s Parent Information Committee. “Paper doesn’t exist anymore, and so much more is possible. This Challenge Fund wants to be able to continue to support that type of thinking and to put tools at their fingertips.”
Johnston said the fund that is held by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation was established last month with $10,000 in early donations. The fund will replace bake sales, wrapping paper sales and many other fundraisers parent groups at both schools previously held to fund teachers’ wish lists.
Steamboat parent Sam Jones, who started developing the challenge fund last year, said it is a common model for school districts near his previous home in Denver, especially in the wake of recent budget cuts to public education.
“I came here two years ago from the Front Range, and annual campaigns are the norm there,” said Jones, who has two boys attending Strawberry Park. “I was a little surprised there wasn’t one here. It’s not that we don’t have strong schools here, but they’re a bit precarious. There was certainly a need to make up for some of the funding shortfalls that are starting to show up.”
Jones said the Challenge Fund in Steamboat is partly meant to make up for the increasing expenses in the school district. He said a committee of parents, teachers and the elementary schools’ principals would form and decide how to spend money from the fundraising campaign.
“The schools have given us a wish list, mostly related to staff and supplies,” he said. “On the staff side, they are looking for a full-time technology teacher in each school … and they would also like to see a full-time interventionist.”
He added that those positions are currently shared between the schools and that teachers are hoping to secure funding to place Smartboards in every classroom.
The Challenge Fund joins another high-profile fundraising effort by a neighboring school district in Routt County. Citing the unreliability of funding from the state, the South Routt School District last month launched the South Routt Education Endowment Fund under the umbrella of the Community Foundation. That fund aims to privately raise $1 million this year for the district that has seen its budget cut by an average of $250,000 in each of the past three school years.
Jones and Johnston acknowledged some parents may not embrace or understand the need for the fundraising model, especially in the current economic climate.
“We know it’s a tough economic climate, and we know a lot of parents won’t understand why they should give more money to a public school they are already paying taxes to,” Johnston said. “Any amount of money they are able to give us will help somehow.”
But they are hopeful enough people will contribute to make the fund a boon.
Parent organizers of the fund are hosting a family fun night at Strawberry Park on Jan. 31, when they will talk about the fund while students play and visit stations meant to promote 21st-century skills. Organizers also have launched a Facebook page that parents can gain access to if they become donors.
Soda Creek Principal Michele Miller said teachers and staff at both elementary schools have been working with parents for months leading up to the fund’s launch.
“We’re very fortunate we have these parents willing to take it on,” she said. “They’re very invested in what good schools need, and they just want what’s best for the kids.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com