A successful running-based mentoring program, a bilingual and diversity teacher training program, and a program to feed students in the midst of the pandemic have been selected as recipients of the 2020 Outstanding Program Awards for Oklahoma School Foundations presented by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and its Oklahoma School Foundations Network.
The awards recognize innovative programs sponsored or administered by public school foundations in Oklahoma. Receiving plaques and monetary awards of $1,000 each will be the Bruins on the Run student mentoring and running program sponsored by the Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation, the Teacher Pipeline Program sponsored by the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and the Picnic in the Park feeding program sponsored by the Weatherford Public Schools Foundation.
“We are honoring these programs for their creativity and the positive impact they have in supporting academic excellence in their communities,” said Katy Leffel, director of the Oklahoma School Foundations Network. “In addition, program award winners will present a free webinar on Oct. 30 to share their programs so other school foundations might emulate or adapt these ideas in their own school districts.”
Bruins on the Run Mentoring Program
Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation
The Bartlesville Public School District’s desire to increase student focus in the classroom, improve relationships between students and teacher-mentors, encourage a healthy lifestyle, increase student collaboration and friendships and provide a no-cost after school program were the driving factors that led the Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation to start the Bruins on the Run mentoring program.
Bruins on the Run is a free after school club that meets three times a week for fifth-grade students to run with teacher mentors and near peer mentors from the middle and high school. Student participants receive a quality pair of running shoes and t-shirt to eliminate the financial barriers to participate and are provided with healthy snacks at each club meeting. In addition to running, each meeting sets aside time for participants to work with teacher-mentors on setting goals, overcoming training obstacles, and building relationships.
“The running component is merely the vehicle used to connect with students,” said foundation executive director Blair Ellis. “Mentors are trained to engage with their students before, after, and during the runs. They model behavior beneficial to a classroom environment, like supporting and collaborating with peers, being determined and maintaining a positive attitude.”
After a successful first season with 30 students and 12 mentors participating from two elementary schools, the program was expanded last year to include all six elementary schools, serving 87 students with 48 teacher-mentors. Though the program is on pause this fall due to the pandemic, the foundation is excited to get started again as soon as it is safe.
Teacher Pipeline Program
Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools
Role modeling, setting high expectations and providing culturally informed teaching are three primary ways the Brookings Institute has determined a diverse teacher workforce encourages academic excellence in students. This study, among many others, also shares how difficult it is to “go out and hire” a diverse teacher. The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools is working to increase the number of bilingual and Black teachers in the district by working within the district’s current paraprofessional community to help them become certified teachers.
The program pays 100 percent of participants’ tuition, fees and books as they complete their degrees and become certified teachers for OKCPS. Participants make a commitment to remain employed by OKCPS for at least three years once they earn their teacher certification. The Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Program has 39 active participants, with four more approved to start in the spring. The Diversity Teacher Pipeline Program has 12 active participants with three more approved to start in the spring.
“Data proves that students’ success in school can be directly attributed to having teachers who look like them, and a strategic focus for the foundation is Recruiting and Retaining Urban-Ready Teachers. This program is making a real impact in increasing teacher diversity in our district” said Mary Mélon, president and CEO of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “It is exciting to see program graduates teaching in their own classrooms.”
All program participants continue full time employment with the district during the time they are completing their degree, with the goal to have long-term retention of all program graduates. Three participants have graduated from the program so far, with two more graduating in December 2020 and two additional participants on track to finish their degrees this spring.
Picnic in the Park Community Outreach Program
Weatherford Public Schools Foundation
Teachers are often on the front lines in recognizing the terrible effect of hunger in the lives of many of their students. With the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic and a severe downturn in the oil and gas industry impacting finances of many families, the Weatherford Public Schools Foundation recognized that more students than ever are impacted by hunger issues. With no school feeding program available over the summer months, the foundation stepped in to create and implement their Picnic in the Park program.
Each weekday, the foundation partnered with the Weatherford Daily News, Ben E. Keith food company, and generous community sponsors to provide sack lunches in the park to children and families in a fun, casual and safe way. Volunteers were able to serve and stay socially distant, while still checking on students and providing smiles and encouraging words. Each Friday an ice cream truck was on hand to serve free ice cream to the kids.
“As kids rode by on their bicycles each day to pick up lunch, the smiles, high-fives and looks on the faces of all involved let volunteers know how deeply appreciated these lunches were,” said Weatherford Daily News publisher Phillip Reid. “Surprisingly, some of the biggest winners were the volunteers themselves, who had the opportunity to take their minds off the stress and sadness of COVID and re-focus on helping others.”
The event also gave students and teachers the opportunity to reconnect and even kicked off with a “Teacher Parade” where teachers lined the streets of the Towne Center while families drove by honking and displaying signs to show their support for educators. Picnic in the Park provided over 3,800 lunches thanks to donations totaling $8,250. Some 426 volunteers helped hand out lunches, and more than 900 ice cream bars were given out during the summer.
To learn more about the Outstanding Program Award winners, register for the free Fall Forum Fridays webinar at 12 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, by visiting www.okschoolfoundations.org or contact Katy Leffel at (405) 922-5420.