Making someone’s day is what the Columbia Public Schools Foundation does best, and Jan Summers knows firsthand.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday, a small group of the foundation’s members arrived at Oakland Junior High to give Summers, the school’s media specialist, a $5,000 check to place 200 new nonfiction titles in Oakland’s library.
“It’s phenomenal,” Summers said. “It’s going to make a huge difference.”
Summers was not the only grant recipient. The Columbia Public Schools Foundation’s six-person “Prize Patrol” spent the rest of the morning traveling to six schools on a yellow bus. A stack of giant checks and a handful of blue balloons in tow, the foundation presented district faculty with several grants that will be used to fund a variety of educational programs.
Lynn Baumgardner, a founding member of the Columbia Public Schools Foundation, said the idea for the group took root in 1990.
School board members and other community representatives came together to discuss the future of the Columbia Public School District. One subgroup addressed funding — something that Baumgardner said she had always noticed was an issue.
She knew about other private foundations to benefit public schools. She told other members of the subgroup about the foundations, and they got to work.
“They created guidelines and suggested ground rules for how a foundation like this might operate,” Baumgardner said.
In 1996, the Columbia Public Schools Foundation had its first fund-raising opportunity.
Publicity chair Jan Swaney said the Columbia Public Schools Foundation is unique. Instead of funding things like “pizza parties or trips to the zoo,” they provide materials that will be useful for more than one academic year, she said.
The level of diversity among the programs that benefit from this year’s grant is evident.
Christi Hopper, a physical education teacher at Hickman High School, received $4,235.10 for Dance Into Fitness, a program designed to improve teens’ cardiovascular fitness.
“Teenagers love to dance — they always have,” Hopper said. “This is going to be a good way to motivate students to be more physically active.”
Baumgardner said the work the Columbia Public Schools Foundation has done in recent years is vital to the community.
She also said the grants affect students of all grade levels and disciplines, as well as gifted students and those with special needs.
“These things just wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for the foundation,” Baumgardner said.