Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Announces Boren Mentoring Initiative Grant Recipients

To help support the growth and development of K-12 mentoring programs in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the recipients of its first Boren Mentoring Initiative start-up grants and opportunity grants totaling $15,000.

The announcement coincides with National Mentoring Month in January, a campaign that aims to celebrate the power of mentoring relationships and raise the awareness of the importance of youth mentoring around the United States.

Two start-up grants of $3,000 each have been awarded to BEST! (Building Extraordinary Success Today) Mentoring, a community-based mentoring organization sponsored by the CACHE Schools Education Foundation; and Positive Presence, a mentoring program serving students ages 5-19 in WILSON Public Schools. Start-up grants are awarded to organizations in their first three years of operation and are designed to encourage communities to establish quality mentoring programs.

Six opportunity grants of $1,500 each were awarded to existing mentoring programs to help fund programming, training, materials or other needs that advance excellence in mentoring for K-12 students. Recipients are Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma in BARTLESVILLE, which serves children ages 6 to 18; Volunteers for Youth Pal+ Program of CLAREMORE, which serves youth ages 6-18 in Rogers County schools; One True Light Inc., which serves DUNCAN K-12 students through Summer Feeding and Link One Mentoring Programs; Freedom City, which helps at-risk OKLAHOMA CITY Public Schools students catch up academically through in-school and after-school programming; Thunderbird Challenge Program in PRYOR, a 22-week program for high school dropouts sponsored by the Oklahoma National Guard; and Oklahoma State University Reading and Math Center and Pre-Service Teachers Program in STILLWATER, which provides mentoring and literacy help to Upward Bound high school students.

“We are excited to announce our first Boren Mentoring Initiative Grant recipients and to watch how this year’s recipients will use their funds to strengthen mentoring and impact student growth in their communities,” said Elizabeth Inbody, executive director of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. “We look forward to sharing success stories from each of these programs in the coming year.”

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a statewide nonprofit founded in 1985 by then U.S. Sen. David L. Boren to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. The David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative – one of the foundation’s five programs — promotes the growth and development of quality mentoring programs in Oklahoma. The initiative grew out of the Borens’ own commitment to mentoring and the proven impact that mentoring can make on a student’s success in and out of the classroom.

In addition to awarding grants, the Boren Mentoring Initiative provides on-call support and resources for mentoring organizations, school districts, businesses and others seeking information on how to start or strengthen their mentoring program for K-12 students. For more information, visit ofe.org or contact Program Director Katy Leffel at (405) 236-0006.


(EDITOR: Boren Mentoring Initiative Grant recipients are listed below by the city in which they serve. Each listing includes a brief description of how the Mentoring Program plans to use its grant funds.)


BARTLESVILLE – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma provides fully vetted, caring mentors for children 6 to 18. Its mission is to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. The agency’s Bartlesville office will use its opportunity grant funds to help revitalize its school-based mentoring program in Dewey Public Schools, recruiting and training high school volunteers to serve mentees in need.


CACHE – The BEST! (Building Extraordinary Success Today) Mentoring Program, sponsored by the Cache Schools Education Foundation, focuses on leadership, career exploration and life skills education for middle school and high school students. Start-up grant funds will be used to support group Lunch-and-Learn events, a spring leadership event at Skills for Life Academy, a Mentor Appreciation Day as well as marketing materials for recruiting and retaining volunteers.


CLAREMORE – Volunteers for Youth’s PAL + Program serves youth ages 6-18 in school systems in Rogers County. The mentoring program provides at-risk youth with positive adult leadership. As part of the mentor training process, volunteers complete a six-hour pre-match training addressing topics such as how to respond if a youth is engaged in substance misuse, mandatory reporting, effective communication techniques and motivational interviewing. The PAL + Program will use its Opportunity Grant funds to purchase updated training materials and resources for mentors.


DUNCAN – One True Light Inc. was founded in 2012 with the mission of “linking generations to learn, love and live together.” Its focus is to unite the community to meet the physical, emotional and academic needs of K-12 students in Duncan through a Summer Feeding Program and Link One Mentoring Program. One True Light plans to use its opportunity grant funds to purchase sensory chairs and cushions and sensory-rich bucket kits for each of the seven school sites to help enhance sensory input to promote self-regulation, behavior and attention. They also plan to incorporate STEM educational toys that will help students develop creative thinking and problem-solving skills.


OKLAHOMA CITY – Freedom City works with at-risk students in Oklahoma City Public Schools, helping them to catch up academically through in-school and after-school programs, with a special focus on reading and math. The program will use its opportunity grant funds to help cover after-school staff expenses and purchase supplies for math and reading instruction.


PRYOR – Thunderbird Challenge Program provides 16 to 18-year-old school dropouts with the opportunity to gain control of their lives. The program, a division of the National Guard and National Guard Bureau Youth Challenge Program, utilizes a structured approach to self-discipline, improving self-esteem and physical fitness to address the needs of the whole person. The program plans to use its opportunity grant to provide mentor appreciation gifts and prizes to be awarded during mentor training events. Mentor appreciation is critical to mentor retention and the program’s success.


STILLWATER – Oklahoma State University’s Reading and Math Center and Pre-Service Teachers Program provides mentoring and literacy support to Upward Bound high school students. The program will utilize opportunity grant funds to purchase materials benefiting mentees such as journals, curriculum materials and assessments. They also plan to use the funds to host closing events in fall and spring for mentors and mentees.  


WILSON – Positive Presence matches positive adult role-models with Wilson students ages 5 to 19. Mentors will read with students, participate in game nights, talk about careers, provide tutoring and simply spend time visiting with their mentees. Start-up grant funds will be used for volunteer background checks, for activities such as the School Unity Project, and for mentoring supplies such as books and games.

Virtual Colonial Days Webinars Open to Oklahoma Fifth-Grade Classes

Oklahoma fifth-grade teachers are invited to register their classes for Virtual Colonial Days, a series of early American history webinars presented by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. Teachers can register online through Jan. 17 at ofe.org.

“Agents of Change: Promoting Civil Discourse and Action” is the theme of the Zoom webinar series, which will focus on the importance of civil discourse and the role it plays in creating positive change in democracy. Students will meet people of the past to learn about problems they faced and steps they took to make positive change. Students will be challenged to consider how they can be problem-solvers, have civil discussions and be agents for change in their own communities.

The 45-minute webinars are free to registered fifth-grade teachers and will be held at 10 a.m. Fridays, Jan. 28, Feb. 11, Feb. 25 and March 4. Presenters include Tulsa historical interpreter Stephen Smith as Founding Father Benjamin Franklin; Mount Vernon historical interpreter Tom Plott as Dr. James Craik, who will reflect on his friend George Washington as a change agent; Colonial Williamsburg historical interpreter Bryan Austin, portraying James Madison, Father of the Constitution; and Colonial Williamsburg actor and interpreter Deirdre Jones Cardwell as Agnes, an enslaved woman in the home of Peyton Randolph, speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Following the series, students will be invited to participate in a literature contest reflecting on how they, too, can be agents for change in their communities. Virtual Colonial Days is part of the Early American History Programs sponsored by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a statewide nonprofit that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. The foundation also administers scholarships for fifth and eighth-grade teachers to attend the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute and has co-sponsored Colonial Day at the State Capitol, a hands-on history education event for fifth-graders.

Last year, more than 5,700 Oklahoma students and teachers participated in Virtual Colonial Days webinars, which began as an educational outreach program during the pandemic. In a post-event survey, teachers indicated they wanted the program to continue – even after the pandemic is over.

“There weren’t many opportunities for authentic learning last year due to the pandemic,” said Aimee King of Shaweee, a 2021 program participant. “This was a chance for students to have engaging lessons and reinforce skills they learned in the classroom.”

Fairview teacher Kim Larsen said the historical presentations were very realistic. “Every one of my students finished the series knowing something they didn’t know before.”

Virtual Colonial Days is made possible with support from Oklahoma Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Larry and Diana Brown, and Charles L. Oppenheim. Teresa Potter, an instructional coach for Putnam City Schools, serves as project director for Virtual Colonial Days.

Virtual Colonial Days Registration Open

Arnett fifth graders, shown here Zooming with Benjamin Franklin, were among more than 5,700 participants in Virtual Colonial Days, a webinar series bringing interactive historical presentations to classrooms throughout Oklahoma. Applications for the 2022 webinar series presented by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence are now open here.