OSD educators win inaugural FOSD 'COOL' grant

From left, Friends of the Oregon School District member Krista Flanagan, Oregon School District grades 5-12 social/emotional coach Janet Pliner, Oregon High School associate principal Brad Ashmore and FOSD members Julie Swartzmiller and Karin Victorson celebrate Pliner and Ashmore being named the first recipients of FOSD’s new Creating Opportunities for Oregon Learners Classroom (COOL) grant at last month’s district meeting.

In its fifth year of helping students in need throughout the Oregon School District, the Friends of the Oregon School are now including educators in its focus.

Last month, FOSD inaugurated a new annual grant program for district teachers. It’s the fifth program established since the group was started in 2016 by several district moms who were concerned about rising numbers of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

The Creating Opportunities for Oregon Learners classroom (COOL) grant provides funds for educators to create opportunities for their classroom, team or school that align with FOSD’s objectives and the district values of Whole Child Emphasis and Educational Equity. One example would be bringing in a speaker to teach about another culture or promote connections and positive behaviors in the school; another might be providing classroom materials that encourage students to connect and expand their knowledge of people and places.

The first COOL grants were awarded to Janet Pliner, a social/emotional coach for grades 5-12 throughout the district, and Oregon High School associate principal Brad Ashmore. Their joint proposal was funding for signage and T-shirts to help promote the high school’s LINK crew, which is upperclassmen who volunteer to support freshmen during their first year.

With this year’s initiatives set, the group is already busy working toward its next goal of creating an adult mentorship program, something FOSD president Christine Erickson said will require “a lot of people invested in helping.”

“It’s going to be great (but) the need is very great,” she said. “One of the single biggest factors involved in student success is having an adult role model involved in their life that is invested and encouraging them and following up on their progress.”

Serving students

Since 2016, through its Snacks, Food Packs and Lunch Balance programs, the Friends have delivered to schools more than 90,000 snacks and 2,300 food packs, and more than 500 gift cards for food during school breaks.

Last fall, FOSD helped raise nearly $6,300 during the “FriendsGiving” program to help feed kids during the holidays.

The “ Champions Fund” grant program launched in 2017 provides educational experiences or materials when staff recognize a need or opportunity and submit an application. Last year’s grants included driver’s education classes, graduation caps and gowns, eyeglasses, personal care items, tuition and various conferences, camps and educational materials.

Erickson praised the Oregon and Brooklyn communities for their help in the past, which has come in a variety of ways, from anonymous monetary donations to help packing backpacks for students’ school breaks. Donors and partners, both local and non-local, include churches, businesses, foundations, service groups and individuals.

Becoming COOL

The next step for FOSD, the “COOL” grant, is designed to help educators reach larger audiences with their programming.

Pliner and Ashmore received the award during last month’s annual staff meeting.

“All the teachers got to see that award happening, which was fun,” Erickson said. “Our model has always been to listen to what the schools need, and so every single initiative comes out of what teachers or admin teams are telling us is needed.”

FOSD co-founder Karin Victorson said their application was chosen because the funds required would “have the most impact over the longest period of time” and directly aligned with the district’s value of “developing the whole child and educational equity.” Other grants submitted but not chosen were funded through the OSD or outside sources, though.

“It ended up working really well,” Erickson said. “All the applications got funded in some ways this year. It’s equity focused, where we can have a larger impact.”

Building momentum

Group members are excited about how much has been done in four years, Erickson said, and how they’ve been able to work with community members and “especially teachers” to grow the programs.

“We’ve built what’s become this really special place where people can be involved and they can support and have positive encounters with the school and families,” she said. “There’s nothing other than good that comes out of this.”

Erickson said she’s hearing from some recently hired district teachers and families from outside the district who send students here that the support of FOSD and the community was a reason they came here.

“They feel that this is going to be a good place, and what a fabulous, loving community it is,” she said. “There are a lot of great kids and families and teachers and people who are invested and excited about the future, and this is how you do it. This is how you change the future.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.