By CASSIE MCKEE, FOUR POINTS NEWS
In the five years since Hill Country Education Foundation was first started, it has raised nearly $400,000 for local schools in Four Points, as well as some district-wide LISD initiatives. The foundation is now hoping to raise $20,000 through its fall giving campaign, which kicked off Oct. 1 and will run through mid-November. In its second week, HCEF has reached 36 percent of its goal.
John Pasquarette, HCEF board member and chairman of the fall giving campaign, said the fall campaign was created to give the community another opportunity to get involved. He said the HCEF annual gala, held every February, has quickly grown in popularity. Last year’s event at the Oasis Restaurant sold out of its 380 tickets in about one week.
“The fall giving campaign is another outlet for people to be able to give who aren’t able to go to gala,” Pasquarette said. “This is another opportunity for us to make it clear that all the goodness from the foundation comes from private donations.”
HCEF’s primary focus is to fund educational and college-readiness programs within the elementary and middle schools that feed into Vandegrift High School, as well as programs at VHS.
“With the increasing pressure on public school funding at the state level, schools have to make really hard decisions on cutting back,” Pasquarette said.
Similar to a booster club that supports an athletic team, HCEF was created to support academic initiatives by providing additional tools and capabilities to help students better compete.
“A lot of parents don’t realize they can make a difference with some private funding,” Pasquarette said.
HCEF has given more than $120,000 in individual teacher grants to support specific supplemental curriculum, tools and technology in the classroom, he said. Past grants have funded the purchase of digital microscopes for seventh graders, interactive history maps and garden centers for outside science experiments.
The foundation also prioritizes STEM programs that encourage students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. It has funded robotics clubs from the elementary through high school level. Pasquarette noted that the VHS ViperBots team has made it to the world championship competition for the last two years and has been very successful.
“For such a new school they’re making a huge statement with their robotics programs,” Pasquarette said.
HCEF has also helped fund initiatives such as “Project Lead the Way,” a biomedical science curriculum at VHS.
“Those are the types of programs we’re really excited to support,” he said. “They are national programs with a set curriculum, it’s just a matter of having the funding to do it.”
In addition to funding academic programs in Four Points schools, HCEF has also funded some district-wide LISD college-readiness initiatives. One of its larger pledges was for $50,000, broken up into $10,000 for five years, for the LISD Naviance platform, which every high school student in LISD has access to.
Pasquarette said Naviance is a career and college research tool that allows students to understand their likes and aptitudes and how that translates to different careers, what colleges offer programs in that field, as well as profiles of students who are studying in the field so that high schoolers can begin preparing sooner.
In a similar theme, HCEF has funded a program called ReadiStep, which allows 7th and 8th graders to take a practice PSAT test and begin preparing earlier for the exam.
“As the five-year anniversary approaches, we’ve really turned the corner,” Pasquarette said. “It’s not an awareness program anymore, many people are familiar with the foundation. Now it’s about participation. A lot of what we’re doing is trying to promote the impact we’re having. Things like Naviance, the teacher grants; those things really make a difference.”
PIE Your Parents Social media
To help promote the fall giving campaign, HCEF has started a Facebook social media campaign in a similar style as the recent ALS Challenge campaign. It is called “PIE Your Parents” and encourages students to upload videos of them throwing a pie in their parents’ faces. PIE stands for the foundation’s mission of prepare, inspire and engage.
He said in the first week of the fall campaign, they reached 20 percent of their goal and in the second week, 36 percent.
“We’re trying to get involvement,” he said. “If everyone kicked in $50, we’d be well passed our goal.”
Giddy Up at Domain
Pasquarette also encouraged families to mark their calendars for the next gala, which will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Westin in the Domain. While the event has been held at the Oasis Restaurant in the past, he said they had to change venues to accommodate the growing attendance.
To donate to HCEF’s fall giving campaign or for more information, visithttp://hillcountryedfoundation.org/2014giving/.