Three Public School Foundation Programs to Be Recognized for Outstanding Achievement
A fully equipped bookmobile, a book dispensing vending machine and a program connecting school site needs with community resources have been selected as recipients of the 2021 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 Trojans Read the Way Bookmobile sponsored by the Jenks Public Schools Foundation; the Get Books, Not Twix! Book Vending Machine sponsored by the Grove Education Foundation for Excellence; and the Community and Schools Together Initiative sponsored by the Putnam City 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. 27 to share their ideas so other school foundations might emulate or adapt these programs in their own school districts.”
Trojans Read the Way Bookmobile
Jenks Public Schools Foundation
A grassroots effort by Jenks Public Schools educators to provide access to books and literacy support during the summer and their vision to expand the program into a dedicated bookmobile led the Jenks Public Schools Foundation to support the Trojans Read the Way literacy initiative. The initiative raised the funds needed to transform a retired Jenks school bus into a fully functional bookmobile.
In summer 2019, a group of dedicated educators determined a population of Jenks Public Schools students may not have access to books during the summer months. To provide these students with equitable access to books, multiple teachers volunteered their time and resources to load donated books into a van, travel to nearby apartment complexes, and offer books to families. The makeshift book- mobile was well received, and families lined up each week to take home a selection of books. These
teachers presented the positive outcomes of their summer literacy effort to the Jenks Board of Education, along with their vision of expanding the program.
Jenks Public Schools Foundation leaders heard their request and approved a Trojans Read the Way funding initiative. In February 2020, the foundation issued a call to action at its annual Dinner and Auction, raising funds to repurpose a retired Jenks school bus into the Trojans Read the Way Bookmobile.
Jenks carpenters removed the interior seating and worked with the Trojans Read the Way team to create a colorful interior equipped with bookshelves, seating, and a generator to provide air conditioning during the hot summer months. Once the interior of the bookmobile was completed, a Jenks business produced a wrap with a fun design to cover the bus. The Jenks Public Schools Foundation logo is proudly included in the design. Funds raised for the initiative also provided a permanent canopy for the bookmobile. A call for donated books was made throughout the district with Trojan Read the Way donation receptacles placed at all school sites. Several Foundation board members also offered to place receptacles at their businesses. Thousands of books have been collected.
“Jenks Public Schools Foundation leaders and the Trojans Read the Way team all agree that the Trojans Read the Way literacy program was extremely successful,” said foundation executive director Elizabeth Inbody. “It has grown from a grassroots effort of delivering books out of a van to an air conditioned, colorful, inviting bookmobile where students can experience the joy of selecting a book that will become part of their own home library. The number of students served increased dramatically, and three times as many books were given away with the addition of the bookmobile.”
During the summer of 2021, over 2,300 books were distributed to students and families. An average of 150 students were served each week, greatly expanding equitable access to learning for Jenks students during the summer months. The Trojans Read the Way team has plans to increase the impact of the program going forward by adding additional routes and taking the Bookmobile out to serve families during holiday breaks.
Get Books, Not Twix! Book Vending Machine
Grove Education Foundation for Excellence
Grove Upper Elementary School librarians were looking to reinforce positive behavior, reward students for reaching reading goals, encourage student reading and self-selection of books, and create a culture of excitement around reading. The Grove Education Foundation for Excellence stepped in to fund a book vending machine to provide an experience that fosters those important student achievement objectives.
Vending machines are a ubiquitous feature in many schools around the country, but creating a machine that dispenses a selection of brand new, high-interest books with a variety of reading levels rather than soda or candy has motivated students to focus on positive behaviors at Grove Upper Elementary. Students can earn a golden token to use in the book vending machine by demonstrating positive behavior, showing good character traits, reaching reading goals, going above and beyond in the classroom, or celebrating a birthday.
Giving books to students is also a great way to build bridges between schools, families, and the community. Community members who donate the books can write positive, uplifting messages in the books for students. The books in the vending machine are high-interest, diverse, and high quality, reaching students at all different reading levels. Students choose the book they want based on interest, regardless of reading level.
“The book vending machine brings new excitement to reading!” said Grove Upper Elementary Principal Charla Matthews. “Our students, no matter their academic level or socioeconomic status, are excited to earn a coin. They love to choose a book of their own and to receive it in a way that is FUN!
“Whole classes will come to watch the recipient spend their coin which builds excitement for others,” Matthews added. “We have some students who will save their coin for months until ‘just the right book’ becomes available. It’s an amazing tool for both our positive behavior plan and our schoolwide literacy initiative.”
The Grove Education Foundation for Excellence strives to provide grants that feature new and innovative ways to improve education for Grove students. Reading skills and good behavior are critical components of classroom success, and foundation leaders said they are thrilled to see the book vending machine encourage those objectives for years to come.
Community and Schools Together Initiative
Putnam City Schools Foundation
Recognizing that there are many community members, businesses and organizations that want to help public education and that there is always a need for community support for schools, Putnam City Schools Foundation created the Community and Schools Together Initiative (CAST) to help connect community resources to school needs.
Each of the district’s three feeder school patterns has a CAST liaison who works with school staff to identify and to fill needs and to build lasting relationships with community donors that improve educational opportunities for students.
During the pilot year for the CAST program, several opportunities for community engagement occurred. A group of church members painted games on the blacktop at one school while another repainted the United States flag. A women’s group came together to build a Girls’ Closet full of feminine hygiene and care products at a middle school. A youth group replaced the shingles on the roof of a shed at an elementary school. The Energy soccer club donated soccer equipment to enhance an elementary PE program. A local business donated two refrigerators for teacher lounges, replacing long outdated ones. During COVID school closures, the foundation’s CAST liaisons worked with three churches to collect and distribute school supply packets to students in need.
“The outcomes of the CAST program, from providing supplies for girls and sports equipment to books and school supplies, show that we are meeting the needs our schools have,” said foundation President Jennifer Seal. “Those things may not represent major breakthroughs in test scores, but they represent an improved community spirit and the building of a culture of mutual support throughout our area. Putnam City is not an actual city, which makes it difficult for people to feel that ownership and pride one might have in an actual town. This program will foster those feelings as it grows.”
The impact of the Community and Schools Together Initiative continues to expand as relationships are built and school needs are met in big and small ways across the district. Over 2,400 students received school supply packets during distance learning, and countless more have been impacted with donations big and small, thanks to community partnerships formed and fostered through CAST.