During a lunch break at Oak Hill Elementary School, students are utilizing “Wellness U,” a variety of creative, fun media that promotes learning about healthy lifestyle and food choices, encourages good table manners and focuses on awareness of cultural differences in the school’s student body.
At Heartland Elementary, students at all grade levels are using tools that teach them how to predict weather and graph its changing patterns. All Blue Valley District middle schoolers can now use a new web-based system called LibGuides that teaches them how to do research and customize projects and classroom assignments. And at Blue Valley North High School, anatomy students work together to build a human body out of clay, including the skeletal structure, nervous tissue, blood vessels and organs.
These are just a few of the innovative projects funded by The Blue Valley Educational Foundation (BVEF), a not-for-profit organization created in 1990 to support the Blue Valley School District in response to changes in tax-based support for public education. Since that time, the foundation has stayed true to its overriding mission: to enrich education in the district through community outreach, financial development and ongoing funding of extraordinary educational programs.
Leawood resident Anne Blessing is the foundation’s executive director and says the organization’s fundraising and community awareness activities are more important today than ever.
“The administration and schools are excellent stewards of tax payer dollars and stretch those dollars effectively and consistently,” says Blessing, whose two sons attended and graduated from Blue Valley schools. “But state funding isn’t always available for programs our community and parents have rightfully come to expect. That is where the foundation can add value to our district.”
Toward that end, Blessing, a graduate of the University of Kansas and former attorney with a downtown Kansas City law firm, spends a portion of every day on fundraising by reaching out to prospective individual donors and businesses in the community.
She also spends considerable time consulting with teachers and administrators who request funding for classroom programs, many through the foundation’s grant request process. Last year, the foundation reviewed about 100 funding requests and distributed more than $290,000 in grants, awards and special programs. Since its inception, BVEF has distributed a total of $2.4 million of private funding for activities at all 34 Blue Valley District schools.
Blessing says programs funded through BVEF have a common purpose: to support the district’s strategic goals of promoting both academic success and personal growth for every student.
“Character education is a very important part of the district’s mission,” said Blessing. “It dovetails perfectly with academic excellence and helps create a more caring, contributing citizen.”
A popular event each year promoting character education is the foundation’s Sunflower Ambassador program, now in its 14th year. The program encourages student and staff to nominate individuals, a student and staff member, in their schools who best demonstrate the seven virtues promoted throughout the district: compassion, courage, honesty, perseverance, respect, responsibility and self-discipline. Nominators submit essays about their candidates that are reviewed by a panel of community leaders and foundation patrons. On announcement day, Blessing is among those who arrive in the “Virtue Van” and surprise the winners and nominators at assemblies held at their respective schools. The honorees receive medals and ovations and their names are placed on permanent plaques displayed prominently in their schools.
“We help school administrators sneak family members and friends in for the big announcement,” says Blessing. “Both the winners and nominators are always very surprised. It’s just a great, uplifting day.”
The Ambassadors are also honored at BVEF’s annual community breakfast, the foundation’s major fundraiser that draws about 1,000 people from around the community. This year’s breakfast will be held August 29 at the Overland Park Convention Center.
Blessing’s position allows her to experience other successes as well. When a grant is approved, she is part of the Surprise Squad that unexpectedly arrives in the classrooms of the instructors who submitted the successful grants. “We usually run in with balloons, banners and just lots of ‘hoopla’,” says Blessing. “It’s a blast and part of the reward for the time and diligent work it takes to submit a grant.”
The foundation also provides district-wide financial support for the Wilderness Science Center as well as Blue Valley’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS). Each year, the CAPS program allows hundreds of Blue Valley District high school students to participate in personalized learning experiences in professions such as engineering, medicine and more.
Additionally, the foundation provides funding for district-wide programs that support the second strategic goal of personal growth for each student. All programs funded by the foundation are listed and described on the organization’s website, BVEF.org.
Blessing says the foundation will continue to provide vital financial support to the district in a fast-paced educational environment that has always changing, budgetary requirements. She adds that district instructors and administrators are never short of creative ideas and requests for their students.
“It is always amazing to see the innovative, exciting ideas our district’s instructors bring to the table,” says Blessing. “They continue to keep education fresh and new and truly want every student to succeed.”