EPAK continues to have positive impact on Ravenswood teachers

Courtesy of tami espinosa
Ravenswood School District students benefit from special experiences, such as field trips, thanks to regular grants from the East Palo Alto Kids Foundation.

This year marks 20 years for the East Palo Alto Kids Foundation (EPAK). Its continued success isn’t owed to radical change – its hallmark is stability.

The mission remains the same: Provide a consistent source of funding for teachers in the Ravenswood School District so that they can pursue their own class activities such as field trips. EPAK funds projects otherwise unfulfilled within the financial constraints of a school district located in an economically disadvantaged area.

“I absolutely could not do without it!” said Allison Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Brentwood Academy. “I supplement nonfiction with passages and articles printed from the Internet, but I believe having real nonfiction books in the class is really important for our students. … I know that if we can’t find funding in any other way, EPAK is our only option for helping to pay for buses for our science camp field trip in the spring. EPAK is amazing. They help provide critical supplies and funding for programs that students at my school depend on.”

“We’re still an all-volunteer board, we’re still serving all the teachers,” said Tami Espinosa, EPAK board president and principal at Ravenswood’s Brentwood Academy. “Still core to our beliefs is asking teachers what they want. We still believe teachers know what’s best for their classes. We want to empower them.”

One notable change to EPAK is the board’s decision to fund specialist teachers along with classroom instructors. EPAK currently funds 240 teachers serving 5,000 students annually, providing two $600 grants for each teacher.

The nonprofit organization has rebounded from an economically bumpy 2010-2011, when funding decreased as class sizes increased.

“Corporate giving has increased – the (individual) donor base has shrunk a little,” Espinosa said. “We’re working on increasing the donor base.”

She also wants to see an increase in board member participation. Having an expert in accounting on the board, for example, could be a big help come budget time.

Espinosa got involved in EPAK after being a recipient teacher eight years ago. Thanks to an EPAK grant, she was able to take her fourth-grade class on a field trip to Sacramento and Sutter’s Fort.

Teachers use some grants for tech tools such as projectors and e-readers. One teacher purchased iPod touches as a teaching tool for students with special needs.

“It’s fascinating,” Espinosa said of teachers’ creativity. “One of the good things about being on the board is hearing about all the ideas (for projects) from the teachers.”

Espinosa said the annual Town Crier Holiday Fund check makes a big difference.

“Getting thousands of dollars from (the fund) that has been loyal to us is pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s been that base that has given us a sense of security so that we can support teachers every year. … We don’t ever want to drop a grant cycle. Teachers depend on us.

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