Alternate Title: Why You Should Donate (Money and/or Time) to Great Public Schools
If you've read my blog for awhile now, you know that a year ago I was totally stressed out about where Jake was going to go for Kindergarten. I mean, there are many options in Los Angeles, it's so complicated to figure out the system, and in the end it sometimes boils down to little more than luck (read Magnets and Charters...). And because there's not really a standardized timing for when you are notified about school acceptances, you sometimes need to commit to one school before you've heard whether or not you have a spot at some of the other schools (read If you think...). But you probably also know that we somehow made it through that stressful time, and are now at a school that we love even more than we ever thought possible!
So, how did we get so very lucky to end up an amazing public school that we truly love, with a kindergarten teacher that we respect and adore, a principal that really listens to the children and their parents, and a group of families that are just as committed and involved as we could ever have hoped or expected? We won the lottery! And if that sound facetious or ridiculous, then you don't have a kid in Los Angeles.
You see, here in La-La Land, if parents don't want to send their kids to their neighborhood school, and they can't afford/don't want to send them to a private one (let's be honest, it's usually the money), then there are a few options. One is to find a charter school (or several), enter their admissions lottery, cross your fingers and hope for the best. So we did. Along with the other 10 schools we applied to, we picked a brand-new start-up charter practically across the street from our house. WISH Charter (isn't that an awesome name, even if it's a little tricky to clearly enunciate?) was originally planning to open in the Fall of 2009, but getting through the bureaucracy of LAUSD takes longer than you think, so it was put off until 2010. So we applied to this little school that had no track record, with a facility in serious need of remodeling, but a philosophy that was in line with our beliefs about what public school should look like. It was (originally) our back-up option in case nothing else worked out.
As it turns out, we ended up with a few options, a couple of them private schools. We weighed the pros and cons (the cost of private school being a huge con!), and decided to take a bit of a risk on the brand new public charter school. It was exciting to think that we'd be helping to build and shape this school as it grew. We went into it ready to volunteer our time, get involved and contribute our voices to WISH's community.
And get involved we did! It started with simply attending a meeting to help plan the summer mixer. Really, I just wanted to start getting to know some of the other parents and figure out how I could help. But everyone there was so excited to do that, and so much more- start building a school library, plant gardens, have shirts with the school logo, paint murals and beautify the school. Before long, there was talk about finding a hot lunch option and starting a recycling program. And the ideas honestly kept coming- but not just ideas, but people ready to make it happen! Did you know none of these things exist without the time and energy of many enthusiastic people to get it all off the ground?
If anyone had told me a year ago just how much work this would take, how much time and energy we would devote to this school... Well, I probably would have just brushed off their warnings, to be honest. I mean, people tell you how much work it is to have kids, and we still went forward with that- not just once, but twice.
So, what was my role in all of this? None of those things. And kind of all of it- we did all of it, and more! It started with a simple question about fundraising- how could we bring in some money to help support all of these amazing visions that the parents had for this school? I wanted to set up a few "passive" fundraisers- you know, the kind where you link your grocery card to the school so that a small percentage gets donated back each time you shop. And a few fundraisers at local restaurants- again, families attend and the restaurant donates a percentage back. And from there the ideas grew- fundraising events, grants, corporate sponsorships. We wanted to do so many great things for the school, but pretty much everything takes money, so we needed to find some ways to bring it in. And so I was put in charge of fundraising for the school.
So, how did we do? Pretty darn well, if I do say so myself. We (my fundraising committee and the school's parent association in general) set goals for ourselves. First, we wanted to bring in enough money (through events and passive fundraisers) to support our Arts, Music and PE programs at the school. As many other public schools are cutting these "extras," our goal was to always keep them fully integrated within the curriculum. By raising money to cover the costs of these specialists' salaries, program supplies and materials, it would take the burden off of the school to pay for them. We did a car wash (okay, we didn't wash the cars, but we partnered with a local business, got our cars washed, and got a nice donation to the school). We ate out at restaurants every month (such a chore, you know how I like to cook at home!). We put on a Holiday Boutique, raffles, a booksale, a silent auction and more. Our teachers even donated their time for fun activities with the kids that parents could bid on- Jake got to have breakfast at the beach with his kindergarten teacher and a few other students. We tried it all, and had lots of fun doing it. I'd like to think that all of our fundraisers did even more than bring in money, as we also bonded as a school community during these events. But bring in money we did- we have a couple more events before this school year is over, but it looks like we'll be able to fully cover the expenses of our thriving Arts, Music and PE programs.
Another fundraising goal was to obtain grants or sponsorships to help support getting new programs off the ground or subsidize what we had already started- the library or recycling program for example. This was a challenge as it turns out, and we learned that in this economy (aren't you tired of that phrase?) people are reluctant to put money into new schools with unproven track records. "We'll get 'em next year!" is my motto on that.
Our last fundraising goal was the biggest- to raise enough money from direct donations (i.e. people writing checks) to cover the budget deficit caused by the state pulling funds that the school had been relying upon during budget planning. At over $1000 per student, that left a big gap in the budget- about $140,000 in just this year alone. Did you know that charter schools generally receive less money per pupil than traditional public schools (estimates are between 22-40% less)? That they have less access to funds, and often have to pay a monthly rent until a suitable property is offered to them by the school district (as required by law)? It ain't easy being charter- you have big goals about how you want to do things differently than the traditional local schools, but less funds to do it with. We haven't hit our direct donations goal, but we did make a huge dent in it. If anyone knows a big donor looking for a cause, send them my way...
So, what's next in year two (aka first grade)? Bigger and better, of course. I recently accepted the position of co-president of WISH's parent association for next year. To be honest, I'm not sure yet what that looks like and what my role will be in regards to fundraising. But I do know that I am excited to be doing it at a school that continues to grow into everything I had hoped it would be.