Professional Development

Financial Difficulties Force Foxfire To Reduce Outreach

By Catherine Gewertz — February 07, 2001 3 min read
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The Foxfire Fund, the Georgia-based group that pioneered an active-learning method emulated by teachers nationwide, has been forced to downsize its operation because it has fallen on hard financial times.

In a December letter to friends and associates, Foxfire officials disclosed that they would focus on maintaining programs in Georgia and the surrounding states and scale back their involvement in projects outside the Southeast because of a reduced operating budget.

Ann Moore, the acting president and executive director, said in the letter that “hard choices remain ahead” as the group seeks to streamline its expenses. Foxfire’s work has been a source of “intense pride” and will be continued through courses, seminars, and teacher- support materials “to the fullest extent permitted by our financial resources,” the letter said.

In an interview late last month, Ms. Moore said the Mountain City, Ga.-based teacher-support group had not completed its strategic plan for the near future. But she said she hopes that longer-term financial support can be generated to enable Foxfire to resume its normal scale of operations.

“There comes a time when we have to step back and evaluate our resources and figure out what kind of organization we can be,” Ms. Moore said. “We have to step up to the plate and meet those challenges.”

Foxfire will complete its current work in states outside the Southeast, where it provides support for a half-dozen or so teacher networks and holds training sessions, but will not seek out new ventures in those geographic areas, she said.

It will concentrate instead on the teacher-training and support services it provides in nearby states and on its partnerships with several education-reform organizations.

Sara Day Hatton, Foxfire’s director of education and communications, said that the 35-year-old group has been supported largely by grants and by interest on an endowment, which was created with proceeds from the sale of its 11 Foxfire books. Those books have sold more than 9 million copies since the first was published in 1973.

Financial times got harder, however, as grant money “was not as readily available” and as the endowment’s interest revenues dipped along with the stock market, Ms. Moore said.

Though financial plans are not yet complete, she anticipates that the organization’s $650,000 annual budget will have to be trimmed by $100,000 or more.

In recent months, three of Foxfire’s nine staff members have departed for various reasons, all voluntarily, Ms. Moore said. Among those who left was the group’s president, Bobby Starnes, who took a university teaching post in Montana. The group will begin searching for a new president.

Foxfire has grappled with difficulty before. In 1992, it retrenched its operations after its celebrated founder, Brooks Eliot Wigginton, pleaded guilty to child molestation. It was Mr. Wigginton who originated the Foxfire method in 1966, applying the principles of John Dewey in designing an experiential-learning program for his rural Georgia high school students.

A Way of Life Recorded

To spark their interest in learning English, Mr. Wigginton suggested that his students create a magazine about what they knew best: their mountain community. With notebooks, tape recorders and cameras, they documented its way of life. They called their magazine Foxfire, after a forest lichen that glows in the dark. The Foxfire books are collections of stories written for the magazine.

That active approach to teaching and learning caught on in scores of schools nationwide. Foxfire assists the teacher-support networks that have sprung up around it, and offers training and other support for teachers interested in adopting experience-based teaching methods.

It issues a three- times-a-year journal for, about, and by teachers interested in active-learning methods and also publishes a quarterly newsletter for its members. Ms. Moore said the financial restructuring would not affect those publications.

Ms. Hatton said that while she regrets seeing Foxfire cut back its operations, she still has faith that its message will reach many.

“The heart of Foxfire is the work that we do with teachers and learners, and that work remains,” she said. “Whether we’re doing it regionally or nationally, it still inspires teachers and learners to work together in ways that are meaningful.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Financial Difficulties Force Foxfire To Reduce Outreach

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