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Friends of Quaker Valley Schools group picks up where budget leaves off

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

What began in the late 1970s as an effort to reward college-bound Quaker Valley graduates with scholarship money has morphed into an enterprise helping to provide programming the district's budget can't support, leaders say.

The not-for-profit Friends of Quaker Valley Schools Education Foundation has provided funding to several initiatives over the past few years that district Assistant Superintendent Heidi Ondek said wouldn't have otherwise been funded.

“As public school funding is further restricted, school districts need to look at creative ways to generate revenue,” Ondek said. “We are fortunate to have the Friends of Quaker Valley Schools foundation, which ensures quality programming in an economic climate where programming would be at risk.”

From treadmills and other equipment in a middle school wellness center, to a youth wrestling program and a community youth worker who advises and mentors children, the lives of students are enhanced through foundation-driven support, said Ondek, who serves as vice president of development for the organization.

“If these programs were merely sponsored by the public school system, these would be unsustainable programs,” she said.

As district leaders wade through slimmer budgets, programs are cut, which affects educational opportunities schools offer, Ondek said.

That's where the education foundation comes in.

“The more our state cuts (school) funding, the more we need our education foundation,” group President Dorothy Pollon said. “No longer can (school leaders) rely on our tax dollars to pay for everything.”

The foundation serves as a separate entity of the district, Pollon said. When she took over the group a few years ago, Pollon said she wanted to bring the group and the district closer to be able to better support programs.

For the 2013-14 school year, $50,000 has been allocated for requested programs given approval by the group's board members, Pollon said.

That money is earmarked for proposals drawn up in advance by teachers and staff.

Additional money is set aside into a discretionary fund, which allows immediate access to fund smaller, less costly initiatives.

An after-school art studio program that began a few years ago has expanded to include more offerings, Ondek said.

Classes in subjects such as robotics, philosophy, service learning and art history were added as interest in the program grew, she said. Programs are credit-bearing electives.

“To think of those programs as extra or not essential, it's understandable that those programs are most at risk because they're not thought of as during the school day,” Ondek said. “But we see something different happening. They're academic and enriching. Because they are after-school programs does not mean they are less valued.”

As interest among district staff members grows to find funding to support educational ventures, so, too, does the need to find funding, Pollon said.

The group is working to expand its marketing presence through fundraising events and online efforts, she said.

Pollon said she hopes to continue supporting more educational efforts, but only can do so with additional support from residents, parents, school employees and businesses.

“Without the Friends of Quaker Valley Schools, (the district) would not have the funds to support these programs, and many of these kids would fall through the cracks — socially, academically and athletically,” Pollon said. “All of these things feed in together.

“When you start with a good foundation, that helps everybody.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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