Homegrown scholarships for turning dreams into reality – Community Relations – Alhambra Foundation for the Future – Brief Article – Statistical Data Included

Carol G. Peck

“How can I talk to my students about going to college when I know in my heart that the children in my classroom will never be able to afford college? I feel dishonest encouraging even my brightest students, when their dreams can never come true.”

This is a disheartening comment teachers frequently asked me several years ago. About the same time, I was stunned to discover during an awards banquet address to 8th grade honor students that not one was planning to attend college. Not only that, but their parents became upset with me for encouraging their children to think seriously about going to college. One father told me he had difficulty putting food on the family’s table and certainly couldn’t afford college.

It was at that moment that our dream of helping students to attend college became more than just words, and we put our vision into motion.

Vested Interests

The first question we faced: “How can we make this happen?” I started with a small group of school district employees who were as passionate about the problem as I was. They volunteered time and energy to create a plan specifically for our students that involved every staff member. This was the origin of the Alhambra Foundation for the Future, a nonprofit organization that solicits donations for college scholarships.

To make donating easy for employees, we instituted a payroll deduction program. This enables all employees to contribute, even if it is only $1 per paycheck. Teachers and support staff are the largest contributors to this scholarship program.

Because the recipients are children who have attended our schools, we know firsthand who they are and have a vested interest in their success. Everyone has ownership, from teachers to bus drivers to maintenance staff. We also see the results of our fund raising as the scholarship recipients graduate from college and enter the workplace. Four graduates even have returned to our district as teachers in the very classrooms they once attended as children. In turn, they are contributing so other students can pursue their dreams.

The program’s success is celebrated publicly. Scholarship recipients speak at teacher orientation each year and a videotape of past recipients is shared with everyone in the district. Employees see their former students becoming successful. Hearing and seeing a student say, “Thank you so very, very much for all you have done for me. You gave me the confidence to get where I am today” is tremendously empowering and motivating. A teacher can look a child in the face and say, “I believe in you so much that I’m donating part of my hard-earned money to aid your success. I have high expectations for you because I want you to be a scholarship winner.

As the program gained momentum, the Alhambra Foundation for the Future was established as a 501-(c)(3) charitable organization. This allowed for community members to contribute as well. One generous citizen heard about what our staff was doing and nearly matched the total of all employee donations. The foundation picked a president and a board of directors comprised of employees and community members. Contributors to the United Way can designate the Alhambra Foundation for the Future on their pledge cards. All administration, labor, materials and postage are donated so that all contributions support the scholarships.

The first year we collected $10,000 in donations and pledges.

Pushing a Dream

Once we established the scholarship program, we addressed the need for teaching our children how to expand their ideas about their future. They needed to dream outside the box, as college was not within the realm of possibility for many of them. We not only had to teach them to dream, we had to push them toward that dream.

Career exploration and college became a focus for all grade levels beginning in kindergarten. Working with universities, community colleges and technical schools, we implemented “Vision Field Trips,” enabling children to tour these post-secondary education sites in the greater Phoenix area. Many children never had seen a college, much less envisioned themselves ever attending. The tours allow them to apply a visual image to their dreams.

In addition, the district conducts an annual penny campaign so the children can raise money themselves to heighten awareness of the possibilities of going to college. Every penny in is a penny toward someone s future. Last year the penny campaign brought in $17,000.

More Than Money

The Alhambra Foundation for the Future over the past 10 years has raised more than $700,000 and currently helps 44 students through college. Scholarships range from $500 to $3,000, and the foundation has awarded more than 200 scholarships since its inception. Each year one-half of the contributions are reinvested to generate additional funds so the foundation will eventually become self-sufficient.

What truly makes the Alhambra foundation succeed is that it is much more than just the money. It creates a possibility for a future that didn’t exist, creates a means for attaining that future and then gently pushes the students toward that dream.

The actual money awarded is often not a large amount, but it is huge in the eyes of a child who never even dared to dream. The money says, “We believe in you. We know you can do it.” That is by far more valuable than any dollar amount. As one scholarship recipient put it, “You guys made a difference in my life!”

Carol Peck is superintendent of the Alhambra School District 68, 4510 N. 37th Ave., Phoenix, Ariz. 85019. E-mail: cgpeck@alhambra.k12.az.us. In September, she becomes chief executive officer of the Rodel Choritable Foundation of Arizona. Terry Eisenberg, who is assistant to the superintendent and president of the Alhambra Foundation, assisted in preparing this article.

COPYRIGHT 2002 American Association of School Administrators

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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