There is no how-to manual for dealing with a global pandemic. But the Pinellas Education Foundation has pivoted quickly since March to continue serving students and teachers with our impactful programs. “The staff and board of the Pinellas Education Foundation remain unwavering in our commitment to equity, ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education,” Foundation CEO Stacy Baier said in a recent video message to supporters and partners. “During these times, we are working hard to make sure we can assist when opportunities present themselves.”
One major opportunity was the expansion of our Digital Equity Project – an initiative piloted by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. The generosity of the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund and many others totaling more than $190,000 has allowed us to increase access through more than 850 broadband devices for families and students in the school district without the means to afford them. As you can imagine, this is so important in allowing students to access high-speed Internet service as they continue their education at home.
Meanwhile, our work has moved into a virtual format to ensure that students still have a chance to learn and achieve. Case in point: the Next Generation Tech (NGT) awards show. The event took place with smashing results April 22 in a unique online platform.
The program culminates every April with tech-savvy students from Pinellas County high schools pitching their innovative products to judges, and honoring the top three teams several weeks later in an awards show. The coronavirus crisis wiped those events off the books. But not to be deterred, the students rose to the challenge – and surmounted it – by taking their array of impressive product pitches and awards show online.
Similarly, our Take Stock in Children Program has continued to push forward in the many ways it enriches our students. In spite of the crisis, we will be awarding scholarships to 275 new Take Stock in Children students in 6th though 9th grades. We will also be graduating another 230 seniors this month. And, recognizing that mentorship is even more vital now to ensure their success, we have successfully transitioned these mentor sessions online. Many members of the community have stepped up to provide invaluable “virtual” guidance and support to Take Stock scholars in 30-minute weekly sessions. On another important front, Take Stock is moving forward with plans to honor graduating seniors from the program with a video celebrating their life-changing journey.
The annual Walker’s Rising Stars scholarship competition held every May at the Mahaffey Theater also needed to be re-imagined. Summoning the “show must go on” spirit, we worked with students and the district to create a new format. The event will now take place as a social media showcase – with all of the finalists submitting videos of their performances and artistic or culinary creations with us.
Thanks to our many generous donors who stuck by us during these difficult times, each one of the 22 Walker’s Rising Stars participants will be receiving scholarships awards.
Our focus is now set squarely on meeting the academic challenges that lie ahead. Explains Baier: “While we have adjusted in the near term to immediate needs, the Foundation is collaborating with funders and the district to determine what additional assistance will be needed for students to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t exacerbate learning loss, especially for our most vulnerable students.”