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Parents create a firm ‘foundation’ at Olde Providence

It was just two and half years ago when a group of parents at Olde Providence Elementary School became fed up with the lack of funding and ever-growing needs at the beloved neighborhood school.

With a campus whose building and facilities date back to 1968, the community school is one that embraces its very description – community. It’s not uncommon to see neighborhood kids and community members enjoying the school’s playgrounds, track facilities, nature trails, athletic fields and basketball court after school hours. But all of that enjoyment came at an expense. The Olde Providence playground was condemned a few years back after being deemed unusable by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools top officials, while the basketball court was less than desirable, with rickety backboards and a rusted-chained net.

It was a budget-tight season at the time and CMS couldn’t foot the bill to fix needed repairs or replace equipment. The school’s parent-teacher group had their hands tied since those groups are restricted to spend raised funds within that year – no money can roll over. The needs were far too great for parents to raise enough money, purchase upgrades and fund renovations all within a year.

Parents separate from the PTA took matters into their own hands, forming the Olde Providence Elementary School Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to raise funds through community support and donations, grants and fundraisers. Through a nonprofit, parents and community members are able to set their sights on one project and see it through to the end no matter how long it takes.

Such is the case with the school’s playground, which was the main inspiration to start the foundation. Cost for playgrounds range from $30,000 to $80,000, foundation president and Olde Providence parent Angela Studnek said. Luckily, CMS was finally able to step in and fund a new outside space, and the foundation had raised enough money to fill in the gaps.

“When (CMS) put in the playground (in summer 2012), we added pieces to that – a climbing wall, shade structures and seating, and last year we replaced 20-year-old basketball boards and resurfaced the court,” Studnek added.

The school also was able to respond immediately to school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Chardon, Ohio, last year by providing two-way radios to teachers to help better communicate with administrators in the case of emergencies.

“While there was a CMS response, it took a while, and we were able to jump on it fast,” Studnek said.

That was last school year. This year, the foundation is proud to have money saved up through fundraisers such as the annual Firecracker 5K race that takes place in their neighborhoods every July 3. Sponsored by Start 2 Finish Charlotte, an event management company, the foundation provides volunteers for the race and in return, they receive a portion of the proceeds. Money from that fundraiser, as well as other donations, have given the foundation stable funds to respond when needs arise at the school.

The foundation recently completed its first grant cycle, in which it was able to award $5,700 to help fulfill teachers’ needs at the school. Leaders of the nonprofit asked teachers and administration to submit proposals for projects that support education of students at the school. The foundation awarded a Professional Learning Community Grant in the first cycle to provide funds for materials and substitute teachers for some Olde Providence staff to take time away from class to design a vertical system of learning, which would reprioritize language arts Common Core standards; a grant to fund National Paideia training for three Olde Providence teachers; money to purchase a portable digital piano with bench and stand; and a vocabulary and language arts app for 30 of the school’s iPads.

And that’s just the start. The foundation is already gearing up for its second grant cycle, which could launch in September. Members would like to eventually see two grant cycles a school year, one in the fall and a second in the spring.

The foundation is currently seeking donations and sponsorships from community partners. Find more information on the foundation at its website, www.opes

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