The Berkeley Schools Fund provides over $1.5 million per year in grant funding for around 300 educators that affect over 10,000 students. Photo: Berkeley Schools Fund
The Berkeley Schools Fund provides over $1.5 million per year in grant funding and in-kind volunteer hours for projects that serve over 10,000 students. Photo: Berkeley Public Schools Fund

For the first time, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund has reached $1 million in annual fundraising, according to the organization.

The 32-year-old organization has collected over $13 million to date for the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), providing classroom grants for approximately 300 teachers in the district each year that benefit over 10,000 students. Last school year, the Schools Fund provided over $750,000 in direct grants and program support to Berkeley schools. When the 1,500 volunteers the fund coordinates are included, total annual contributions amount to about $1.5 million per year in grants and in-kind donations, according to the fund.

Larger grants for collaborative projects are also allocated to educators, which according to the press release have inspired new programs to be adopted districtwide. In 2014, the Schools Fund also implemented a new grant program titled “Friends & Family Grants,” a crowdfunding site created by Blueprint, UC Berkeley’s student software club. The program offers educators an online platform to request classroom materials and generate funding for personal development workshops or class projects.

The Schools Fund is well-known for providing a steady stream of arts and music funding to Berkeley schools. The organization frequently partners with local mainstays such as the Berkeley Symphony and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre to expose students to arts programming as well as middle school music scholarships. 1,000 community volunteers each year are also placed throughout Berkeley schools with funding generated by the Schools Fund.

The fundraising milestone was met with celebration and reflection by the organization’s lead officials. Executive Director Erin Rhoades attributes the growth of the Schools Fund to both long-standing donors and increased outreach to current public school families. “We are reaching out and growing our donors that are current parents in the schools,” Rhoades told Berkeleyside. “I think the growth we’ve seen is a shift where we have been included in people’s estate planning as well as starting to grow among the new parents in the district.”

Schools Fund priority is STEM program, while maintaining arts and music support

The current priority for the Schools Fund, according to Rhoades, is bolstering their involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. According to a BUSD report, employment in STEM careers is projected to increase almost two times faster than the average for all other occupations. “We are trying to strengthen STEM culture in our schools, and have been testing projects in the past few years,” Rhoades said.

The organization granted a $12,264 Strategic Impacts Grant last year to Berkeley’s King Middle School for the “Be A Scientist” program, bringing UC faculty and students into 7th grade math and science classrooms to develop their STEM involvement. Mary Wildermuth, UC Berkeley associate professor of plant and microbial biology, planned and developed a program as part of a new supporting curriculum for 7th grade science implementing the new California state science standards. As part of the program, UC grad students and faculty work one-on-one with students on STEM projects.

Rhoades said that with the recent changes to state science and math standards, the time is right for increased involvement in STEM education.”Right now is an important time because of the significant amount of transition between math and science with the common core curriculum nationally and the new science standards,” she said. “We’re really trying to support teachers and professional development and supplement what the district is doing to really make those successful transitions to the new curriculum.”

The Be A Scientist program will also expand next year to another middle school, with the plan to eventually encompass all three of Berkeley’s middle schools the following year.

The Berkeley Public Schools Fund’s 2015 Spring Luncheon presented the Distinguished Educator award to three educators who “are successfully engaging students by reaching them outside the classroom.” Pictured from left are honorees Matt Tsang, Naomi Washington-Diouf, John Fike, and Schools Fund Executive Director Erin Rhoades. Photo: Berkeley Public Schools Fund

Rhoades emphasized to Berkeleyside that while the Schools Fund plans to increase support for STEM, they have no plan to limit their involvement with arts and music funding in Berkeley schools. “We’ve always been proud to be a major supplemental source of funding for arts and music in the district,” Rhoades wrote in the organization’s press release announcing the $1 million milestone. “Now we can maintain that commitment while expanding our recent emphasis on enhancing math and science education in all schools.”

“The Schools Fund thanks not just those who donated this past year to help reach the $1 million milestone for fundraising, but everyone who has ever donated over its 32 years,” stated the organization’s press release. “Each year the Schools Fund has been able to grow and build momentum due to every supporter.”

Cal students make crowd-funding site for Berkeley schools (12.02.14)
Fund: 30 years of boosting, supporting Berkeley schools (05.14.13)
Berkeley’s Education Foundation announces latest grants (12.07.12)
Berkeley teachers honored for dedication and innovation (05.14.12)

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Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.

Emily Dugdale

Emily Dugdale is a journalist and graduate student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. She previously lived in Oakland and...