Philanthropy Update

November 19, 2003 3 min read
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District Mothers Turn to Internet To Raise Money for Oregon Schools

For parents of school children in Oregon, times are tough. The state has one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, no state sales tax, and a heavily burdened revenue system. Local businesses around the state are even doing promotions to help raise money for schools. (“Cash-Strapped Oregon Schools Get Help From Businesses,” this issue.)

“It’s a frustrating environment when you have kids,” said Maureen Patrick, who has one child in the Oregon City school district, near Portland.

Facing another year of education cuts, Ms. Patrick and another mother wanted to do something for the 7,000 students in their district. But the two quickly discovered that fund drives and school auctions could be a lot of work, while offering limited results.

Then, inspired by a Newsweek article about an online fund-raising program in New York City, they decided to reach out to potential donors with the help of the Internet.

The New York City program, which used data-gathering software, allowed parents, businesses, and foundations to review teacher and school projects on the Internet and then donate to the projects of their choice online.

But the cost of the software was more than the two Oregon parents could afford. So they approached the Oregon City Schools Foundation, which granted them $1,000 in seed money to start their own Web site,

The site lists funding requests made by teachers, including money for field trips, reading programs, classroom supplies, books, swimming lessons, and school equipment.

All requests are reviewed by administrators before being placed on the site, which was launched in mid-October.

Funding requests range from $50 to $4,000, but there are no limitations on how much teachers can ask for.

Ms. Patrick said that while all critical school programs will still be funded by the state, donations received through the Web site could help sustain small, unusual programs that would otherwise be cut because of budget constraints.

Filling the Language Void

Parlez-vous francais?

For nearly 1 million K-12 students in the United States, the answer is a resounding oui.

But while many American students are regularly taught French and Spanish, fewer than 50,000 are offered courses in Chinese or other world languages at the pre-collegiate level.

Now, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes to partly fill the language education void. It has given $7.5 million to the New York City-based Asia Society, a nonprofit organization that advocates the development of educational programs about Asia.

The grant is intended to help establish 10 international secondary schools that will focus a good portion of their efforts on teaching world languages. Three of the model schools, which will offer curricula that focus on international studies— including literature, science, mathematics, and languages—are tentatively scheduled to open for the 2004-05 school year in California, New York state, and North Carolina.

“There’s been a very weak treatment of world languages in the United States,” said Michael Levine, the executive director of education for the Asia Society.

Michael Levine

He points out that many polls have found a lack of student awareness concerning other cultures.

Traditionally, only the more elite schools have offered international studies. But in today’s global economy, Mr. Levine said, schools are becoming more aware that all U.S. students need to know about world cultures and languages. That’s especially true for fast-growing regions such as Asia.

“We hope that these schools will encourage the study of world languages,” he said. "[One of our goals is] to make these skills less of a luxury and more of a necessity for students.”

The schools will remain small, with about 400 to 600 students at each site. Five will enroll 9th through 12th graders; the other five will enroll students in grades 6-12. Each district will be responsible for providing facilities, but grant funding will help develop curricular supports and teacher professional development.

In addition to the initial three schools, the Asia Society is considering setting up model schools in Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas.

— D. Hurst

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