EPAK: Grants for teachers enable class projects and fields trips

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EPAK hosts an annual open house for donors and volunteers. This year’s event, held at Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto in May, included updates from teachers and students as well as classroom tours to see supplies, libraries and projects in action.

Every child deserves a good education. But when socioeconomic factors make one difficult, children can suffer from an uneven playing field.

For children in the low-income Ravenswood communities of East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, however, there’s help in the presence of the East Palo Alto Kids Foundation (EPAK).

The foundation, in its 19th year, raises money from donors and distributes grants directly to teachers to pay for projects, special equipment and field trips. The Town Crier Holiday Fund has included EPAK as a recipient since the fund began 13 years ago.

Ravenswood teacher Michelle Masuda has used EPAK grants for everything from basic supplies to educational games, purchasing an electronic book reader and field trips.

“Since the district is in a tough financial situation, teachers often have to turn to other resources to find extra funds for field trips,” she said. “We have been fortunate to go on a field trip to the SF Exploratorium the last three years thanks to the EPAK grant.”

Board President Tami Espinosa, principal at Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto, became aware of the foundation as a teacher who received a grant. She’s been on the board since 2006 and is in her third year as president.

“Being a recipient had a real impact on me,” she said.

Espinosa outlined how EPAK benefits area students by listing examples of what students would not have if the foundation did not exist: “We would have music without instruments. We’d have art limited to drawing on white paper – no clay (or other supplies), no field trips, no science projects.”

EPAK offers $500-$600 grants in two cycles per school year for 200 teachers – if you multiply by the average class size of 25 students, that’s 5,000 students benefiting from the foundation annually.

Other than $100 grants for new teachers to allow for purchase of classroom supplies, EPAK grants underwrite teachers’ class projects and field trips. EPAK also has funded high-tech tools such as iPads, Nooks, document cameras, projectors and eBooks to enhance the classroom experience.

Rising class sizes and the cost of gas for field trips prompted EPAK to increase its grants last year. The Vida Verde camp in La Honda is free to low-income students – but getting there costs $1,000 for buses. EPAK funding makes it happen.

EPAK is an all-volunteer effort fueled by donors and a 14-member board of directors.

Board members serve as school liaisons and make periodic visits to assess needs.

Approximately 80 percent of teachers at Ravenswood public schools have applied for EPAK grants, but Espinosa said she wants 100 percent of those teachers applying.

“Our goal is to get the money out to the students,” she said. “We want things to have a lasting impact.”

Courtesy of EPAK

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