SLPS Foundation & Berges Family Foundation Enable Remote Learning & Assist in Students’ Care
The pandemic has affected us all in different ways, however, it quickly amplified the disparities in low-income communities. Covid created an additional problem for many children who needed to learn remotely but did not have access to tablets or Wi-Fi connectivity.
Fortunately, the Saint Louis Public School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Kelvin Adams, anticipated the need and put a process in place early to provide every pre-k through grade 12 student a device – 18,000 total. The $8.7 million cost was staggering, but it had to be done, which meant somehow offsetting the enormous expense so other programs wouldn’t be cut or minimized.
“Due to the Superintendent’s foresight, we were not scrambling like other school districts to start online learning, but we had an $8.7 million price tag to offset. That’s when the Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) Foundation created the Emergency Response Fund and soon connected with the Berges Family Foundation (BFF). Their generous grant, through their Youth Empowerment initiative, helped subsidize the costs and bridge the digital divide,” said Emily Zevely, Development Director, SLPS Foundation.
“Students need every advantage they can to thrive and grow into adults with promising futures. Having the right computer equipment and an understanding of technology are essential, so we are extremely happy to help the SLPS Foundation in their efforts to ensure St. Louis youth are empowered to keep learning,” added Elizabeth Mannen Berges, Berges Family Foundation.
What Does the SLPS Foundation Do?
Governed by an independent Board of Directors and, as of July 2021, President and CEO, Bridget Jones, the Foundation focuses on four core areas, including efforts and innovations in:
- Early Childhood Education
- College and Career Readiness
- Student Wellbeing
- Innovative School Leadership
The SLPS Foundation team of five acts as the fiscal conduit for approximately 200 school-specific funds created by donors who wish to support a particular school or department. They not only mobilize the community’s generosity to get funds where they’re needed most, but they also support educators and students within the SLPS District.
Meet Lorene and see the power of post-secondary opportunities!
Be sure to watch Lorene’s short video, where she says the SLPS Foundation “has set her life up for success” with college readiness coaching and funding. Just before the 2-minute mark, she shares her excitement about a big, life-changing surprise. It will make you smile!
The Success of the Emergency Response Fund in Helping Students & Their Families
Development Director, Emily, explained, “Throughout the pandemic, we have maintained with fidelity our programming in college readiness, early child development, and health and well-being, and innovative leadership, which are the primary areas in which we invest. Thanks to our donors and partners, we were able to keep our focus AND respond to the immediate needs that COVID-19 presented for students and their families.”
Devices & Hotspots
Initially, the Emergency Response Fund helped offset the cost of 18,000 devices and 6,000 hotspots. Soon, the number of hotspots increased so more children could connect to online learning (the District serves about 5,000 children who identify as homeless/in transition). When SLPS started back to school on August 31, 2020, 100% of students were able to participate in virtual instruction.
- Offset the costs of 18,000 devices.
- Offset the costs of 6,000+ hotspots.
Headphones, Instructional Centers, Meal Kits
As the first semester progressed, the SLPS Foundation also distributed headphones to families with multiple learners in the same space so all could participate fully in virtual learning. Additionally, by request, from August – October 1, 2020, they helped St. Louis City open 23 staffed, safe instructional support centers in hub-schools with meals, tech support, mentoring and counseling, and caring adults to help with whatever students needed, including virtual learning. These hubs supported approximately 2,000 kids. As the community’s needs grew, the Foundation covered the cost to feed families (students/parents/guardians/grandparents) at food sites on Fridays, distributing “grocery meal packs” with enough food for breakfast and lunch for 5-7 days.
- Distributed hundreds of headphones for multiple learners in one space.
- Supported 23 staffed, hub-schools as instructional support centers.
- Provided 275,000 meal kits at food sites on Fridays.
Funding for a Director of Virtual Learning
The SLPS Foundation also provided seed funding for the creation of a Director of Virtual Learning. This is now a permanent position within Saint Louis Public Schools. It has changed the students’ lives and learning capabilities. Natasha Mitchell, who continues to serve in this capacity, commented, “One-to-one technology has created a pathway to equity for St. Louis Public Schools’ scholars. What was initially a pandemic response is evolving into a baseline expectation of resources for our students. As we embark on the “fourth industrial revolution,” integrating technology into all parts of teaching and learning is emerging as a fundamental literacy that all teachers and students must practice to truly ensure college and career readiness. The positive impact is that scholars can engage in meaningful learning using tools to promote productivity and engagement and to publish work. One-to-one technology empowers teachers to transform learning by developing authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery, and allow students to demonstrate their competency.”
- Provided seed money for a Director of Virtual Learning, which is now a permanent position.
“Technology has increased instructional time by decreasing the time it takes to test students and teachers can go deeper into topics while allowing students to self-explore. There has been more creative learning and richer conversations about a variety of topics.”
– Principal Jonathan Strong, Meramec Elementary School
The Family Stability Fund & Staff Appreciation
Through the Emergency Response Fund, the SLPS Foundation was able to create a Family Stability Fund. This ensured social workers had immediate access to money if a family was experiencing hardship and had exhausted all other means of help. The Foundation also recognized teachers, counselors, social workers, custodial and food service staff, building and district leaders, and other support staff nominated by their peers for going above and beyond to serve students and their families amidst the immense difficulties of COVID-19, providing over $4,500 in gift cards.
- Ensured immediate funding accessibility for social workers.
- Recognized all school staff for their tireless support with $4500 in gift cards.
Emily said, “We look at our communities’ needs holistically and respond accordingly. The pandemic has taught us all to be flexible, but of course, we need our donors’ and partners’ help to continue this great work.”
Current & Future Initiatives of the SLPS Foundation
The SLPS Foundation currently funds six college specialists to solely support kids with college prep and all test-taking, as well as college applications, acceptance, and interviews. Thanks to these investments, the class of 2020 received more scholarships than ever before, culminating in a 20% increase over the previous year and over $50 million in scholarships to colleges and universities!
Superintendent Dr. Kelvin R. Adams, with support from the SLPS Foundation, has committed to expanding the college and career readiness programs with paid internships. These internships will stop students from having to choose between work and school. The SLPS Foundation is working with the full-time director leading the program and actively looking for corporate partners to help place 600 seniors in paid internships in the spring of 2022.
The SLPS Foundation is seeing a lot of excitement around creating “community.” This brought about the idea to make Creative Literacy Spaces in early childhood centers. These spaces are equipped with couches, treehouses, and fun common areas that are designed to bring children and families together, safely.
School Innovation & STEM
The Foundation has funded schools with new and innovative ideas. One elementary school used this funding to grow coding and robotics programs for elementary school students starting in second grade, where they learn the basics of coding and get to build robots. “The kids just love this. Building LEGO robots and learning how things function is fun for them. Little do they know how much it is benefiting them,” said Sydney Thomas, Development and Communications Associate.
The SLPS Foundation continues to help with vaccine initiatives and sees a need to offer additional supports, additional academic opportunities, and increased time for students to cover unlearned material going forward. Additionally, behavioral health therapists, social workers, and counselors have all seen an increase in mental health issues over the year due to COVID-19 related issues – they anticipate a growing need for access to these services.
“COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, so we will continue to be innovative and flexible within our four strategic priorities to deliver the best programming for students. The combination of in-class and remote learning is here to stay, so it’s critical to foster twenty-first-century learning skills while helping our scholars succeed academically, physically, emotionally, and financially,” Emily said.
Since 1998, this small organization has provided schools with more than $30 million in resources.
Ways to Give: How You Can Help the SLPS Foundation Help St. Louis Youth
Want to help the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation continue its amazing work? Donations of all sizes and grants help the most – your financial gifts are an investment in the future of St. Louis.
“The community’s generous support of the Foundation makes up for the lack of state funding to create and administer the kind of programs students need to have a brighter future, one that breaks the cycle of poverty and creates limitless opportunity,” said Elizabeth Mannen Berges.
In addition to donations, please register for the SLPS Foundation’s newsletter, become a champion of public education on and in your community, consider offering paid internships in your business, or become a corporate partner.