Putting Students First: Columbia Public Schools Foundation marks 20 years

In an ideal world, public school teachers would have available to them all the resources they need to educate their students.

In the real world, school funding often falls short and those teachers sometimes dip into their own pockets or have to make do with what they have.

That is where the Columbia Public Schools Foundation (CPSF) comes in.

For 20 years, the foundation has worked to help provide special learning opportunities for CPS students, funding $1 million in grants for everything from field trips and classroom equipment to MakerSpaces and a mobile STEAM lab.

Founded by a group of community leaders in 1996, the foundation has five main goals:

  • Enhance academic excellence in the public schools by providing funding not available through public sources.
  • Expand learning opportunities for all children.
  • Stimulate creativity and innovation.
  • Enrich the schools’ basic curriculum.
  • Encourage community and business involvement in the public schools.

An independent, not-for-profit organization, CPSF is governed by an all-volunteer board of directors. The organization reached its $1 million endowment goal in 2006 and is sustained by community contributions.

With a tagline of “Columbia Puts Students First,” the foundation has provided more than 100 grants for projects and programs in all of the Columbia Public Schools and the Career Center.

Those grants have supported programs in the arts, reading, social studies, history, mathematics, service learning, multicultural programming and science and technology.

Foundation board member Cindy Mustard said recent grants have supported tutoring in math and literacy at the elementary and middle schools, fitness software, iPad minis for the middle school reading intervention program and the purchase of a special robot that helps students learn programming skills as well as helping students with autism work on their communication skills (see our story on page ___).

“A lot of what we’ve done in recent years is technology related,” Mustard said.

The organization also established a Hall of Leaders in 1999 that recognizes outstanding alumni, retired educators and volunteers.

To help mark its 20th year, the foundation announced a new $114,300 partnership grant to the Ragtag Film Society for its Media Literacy Initiative. In conjunction with CPS, the initiative will provide teachers with media literacy instructional strategies and materials that will help students develop skills to be thoughtful, critical consumers of media. The grant funds, to be distributed over three years, will provide screening rights for films and training for teachers to incorporate film into the classroom. Associated extracurricular experiences will include a free film screening and filmmaker Q&A at the annual True/False Film Fest, followed by media-related workshops where students can experiment with their own projects.

In its two decades, the Columbia Public Schools Foundation has had an impact on more than 18,000 students, and the organization’s leaders plan to carry that well into the future.

“Twenty years later, the contributions of so many have impacted the lives of countless students and educators within the Columbia Public Schools,” said Sally Silvers, foundation founder and board member. “I can only imagine what will be accomplished in the next 20 years — and beyond.”