D21 Foundation nets $5K in donations

The first-ever appeal letter sent out by the D21 Education Foundation has so far yielded nearly $5,000 in donations from 39 people.

The funds will help in a variety of areas, and similar donations previously have done things like buy specialized ovens to dry chemical samples in high school chemistry classes, or pay for computer-based programs that boost reading skills.

Donors were asked how they wanted their funds directed, and $2,000 was earmarked for academics, about $500 to scholarships, $2,285 to extra-curriculars like sports, music/arts, and after- school programs and $152 for community partnerships, including the Sister Cities Program and the school archive museum.

The fundraising request was sent early in June to all 11,000 households in the district. The foundation paid the $9,000 cost, which included work by a grant writer as well as postage and folding and stuffing the envelopes.

Mike Elston, president of The Dalles High School Alumni Association, encouraged anyone who has plans to mail in a donation to do so. “If they’ve got it sitting on the counter, they need to do it so they don’t forget about it,” he said.

Responses to appeal letters are generally quite low, especially ones known as “cold” appeals that are sent out to a wide audience, according to expertfundraiser.com.

District Superintendent Candy Armstrong said earlier that the appeal was not only designed to generate funds, but was also a way to raise the profile of the education foundation and to help develop a database of supporters of the school district.

The education foundation, formed in 2008, and funded by private donations, is an umbrella non-profit organization that hosts a number of entities, including The Dalles High School Scholarship Foundation, the sister cities association, the Friends of D21 Music, the Alumni Association, The Dalles High School Booster Club and the school district’s archive museum.

The biggest arm of the education foundation is the high school scholarship fund, which, with recent expected donations, should reach $2.6 million.

To get an idea of how the donations are used, Elston provided samples of grants that the foundation makes to teachers in the district.

A high school teacher sought funding for lab equipment, noting that this year, the number of students taking chemistry at the high school had doubled, to over 150 students.

He was awarded $420 to buy a new gravity convection drying oven for the lab. Students are required to have very accurate measure of chemicals, and the oven helped them do that.

It is used to dry chemical samples and remove any water the chemicals may have absorbed from the atmosphere, making the samples purer and the masses more accurate. He said it greatly improved lad results for students.

“By engaging students in realistic lab procedures at high levels of complexity, we have increased the interest in chemistry even more for the next school year,” teacher Phil Williams wrote in an end of year report to the foundation.

At Col. Wright Elementary, two fifth-grade teachers received $800 to bring in experts for eight weekly lessons and then take their classes on daylong field trips to Dalles Mountain Ranch to learn about plants and animals that live in the shrub-steppe ecosystems.

They also learned how the area was shaped by floods, volcanoes and glaciers, leaving fertile soil and rivers.

Teachers have done the program for 15 years, and said it has had a positive impact on science scores in state testing.

Another teacher sought $359 to subscribe for a year to two computer-based programs that help struggling students independently learn to read and improve vocabulary.

He said one sixth-grade student he had was reading at less than a first grade level, and with the Raz-Kids Program, he improved two grades.

The program has short stories with pictures that students can access on a computer or tablet. They can click or press on a word to hear the program pronounce it, and in audio mode, students listen to it while each word is highlighted.

The teacher said in order to see success at the middle school, effective interventions are needed for the biggest dilemma teachers face: “What to do when the students don’t learn a concept.”

The programs allow students to independently learn and build confidence, reading skills and vocabulary, he said.

Elston is also making the rounds of high school reunions this summer, hoping to drum up membership and dollars for the alumni foundation.

“The numbers count,” he said. “We have to have numbers if we go after grants.”

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