Maybe Beth Skaggs, the current president of the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation Board of Directors, says it best when she tells people why they should support the Foundation. “That’s an easy one,” Skaggs says. “It is absolutely a given that either their child or a child they care very much about has benefited from what the Foundation provides.”
It’s true. Thanks to its incredible donors, the Foundation begins helping students as soon as they walk in the doors of their kindergarten classrooms. Those early literacy paraeducators that help our youngest readers learn to read? The Foundation funded them in response to a program support request from the district. Those classroom libraries full of high-interest, age-appropriate books? The Foundation funded those too in response to a classroom enhancement grant request from a group of teachers.
And kindergarten is just the beginning. Throughout elementary school, students benefit from Foundation program support and classroom enhancement grants. In 2022, ten years after school librarians were eliminated due to budget cuts, the Foundation helped fund a new Elementary Learning Commons Coordinator position to organize and revitalize the libraries at Breton Downs, Lakeside, and Wealthy.
Last fall alone, classroom enhancement grants, which are applied for by teachers and students and reviewed by school principals and district administrators, helped fund a visit from award-winning children’s book author Matthew Cordell, a field trip for 5th graders to attend a Celebration of Souls exhibit at the Grand Rapid Public Museum, a Units of Study Decodable Book Series called Jump Rope Readers, iPads for speech pathologists to use with students, and March Book Madness, a wildly popular bracket-style reading competition that students participated in enthusiastically last month.
“It’s awesome how excited the kids get about March Book Madness,” says Elementary Learning Commons Coordinator Sarah Webber.
The Foundation’s involvement for middle schoolers begins as soon as 6th graders start, with a team-building trip to Camp Blodgett to help students from the three different elementary schools meet and make new friends. It continues all the way through 8th grade, as hundreds of middle schoolers participate in the Middle School Innovation lab, which has grown by leaps and bounds since it was started with a grant from the Foundation.
Other middle school grants approved last year included a Middle School Broadcast Studio with updated audio and visual equipment, new technology for the math department, a mural artist in residence to help students create a new piece of public art in the school, professional development for English teachers, sensory tools for classrooms, and a digital piano for choir classes so teacher Kathy Larson can teach and accompany her students at the same time.
“The EGRSF's gift of a digital piano is a Game Changer for the middle school choir classroom!” Larson says. “The choirs are better prepared for the actual performance; the audience receives an even greater gift of the choirs' proficiencies.”
At East Grand Rapids High School, the Foundation’s presence is everywhere. The International Baccalaureate program? The Foundation helped fund that. We the People, Quiz Bowl, Robotics teams, band, orchestra, drama, and that cool Gone Boarding class where students learn STEAM concepts hands on while designing and building their own surfboards, snowboards, long boards, and–new this year–stand up paddleboards? The Foundation supports all of those too, along with new data collection devices used by every student in every science class.
Perhaps the most important project the Foundation has funded recently is the Mental Health and Wellness Fund. In the spring of 2022, the Foundation made a $750,000 commitment to support student mental health in all our schools. Then this past winter, a committed alum made the largest single gift ever to the Foundation–one million dollars–to provide mental health resources that will help students, teachers, and parents to identify mental health issues before they become crises.
Wow. That’s a lot. And to think it all started in 1983 when seven East residents decided to create the Foundation. Judy Frey, John Sebastian, Bob Eleveld, Brent Slay, Linda Patterson, Jim Maher, and Marjorie Chamberlain got together and started what was just the second public school foundation in Michigan. Together, they managed to raise $100,000, along with five-year pledge agreements from donors that eventually grew the Foundation’s endowment to half a million dollars.
The endowment those founding Foundation board members set up in those early years is still paying dividends today. The investment earnings from the original principal continue to fund grants.
Hundreds of new donors since then have helped grow the endowment to heights those original board members could never have envisioned. Ten years ago, when the Foundation celebrated its 30th birthday in 2013, the endowment stood at $2.7 million.
Five years ago, after scrambling for years to raise money through EGRNOW! to save programs like gym, art, music, and the world language program that were endangered by state budget reductions, Foundation leadership took on a bold new challenge. The Now&Forever campaign sought to raise an additional $8 million–through donations, pledges, and planned giving–to bring the total endowment to $12 million.
Thanks to incredible support from the community, Now&Forever was a success. With the endowment now more than $12 million, the investment earnings should provide half a million dollars in support for our schools every year for generations to come.
Over the course of students’ time in East schools from kindergarten through graduation, the Foundation–thanks to its donors–will provide more than $6 million for their education.
As EGRPS Superintendent Dr. Heidi Katula says, “East Grand Rapids Public Schools is deeply grateful for the ongoing support of our Schools Foundation. The collaborative partnership we have is critical for providing our students and staff the essential resources they need to ensure our long-standing tradition of excellence.”
As the Foundation celebrates 40 years of serving our schools, Foundation Executive Director Amy Stuursma says there’s no limit to what the Foundation can do for our students in the future. “Our mission is to fund enhancements to teaching and learning that support the whole child,” Stuursma says. “We want to redefine excellence so all our students can reach their full potential.”
You can help current and future students of East Grand Rapids Schools by donating, volunteering, sharing the Foundation’s mission, or attending and sponsoring Foundation events. The Foundation’s fundraiser of the year, Hurrah: Adventure Awaits! will be Saturday, April 22 on Wege Plaza overlooking Reeds Lake behind the library in the East Grand Rapids Community Center. It will be a great night for a great cause in the great outdoors. Tickets are available on the Foundation’s website, egrsf.org.