My two teenagers, though faced with all the disappointments, cancellations and restrictions of our COVID times, have individual passions that have sustained and motivated them – a saving grace this past year. My Los Altos High School sophomore son, combining his love of art, music and history, has built a beautiful, functional clavichord (historical keyed wooden instrument) and is now creating a harpsichord. While my St. Francis High freshman daughter has not played competitive basketball for 11 months, she continues to spend hours shooting hoops and practicing drills in our driveway. These passion projects give my kids something to look forward to every day – every day that they aren’t seeing friends and participating in traditional high school events and activities as we stick close to home.

As I reflect back on their development, I am grateful for their educational experiences at Gardner Bullis and Egan Junior High, where they were exposed to a wide range of subjects taught by passionate experts that supplemented their excellent classroom education. I am also grateful to be part of a community that values and pays for programs that allow our kids to try a variety of things at an early age. Because who knows what will light your kids’ fires and sustain them when times get tough?

I strongly believe that the wide variety of programs that Los Altos School District offers – programs that are paid for by our Los Altos Educational Foundation (LAEF) because public funding isn’t enough – seed kids with ideas and exposure that allow them to blossom into individuals. Programs such as music, art, PE, STEM and electives for junior high students, as well as wellness services, help kids identify passions that might lead to school choices or careers, or maybe just build meaningful interests that enrich their lives.

I know for sure that PE with professional instructors like David Cerecedes and Josh Ortman, and spring training for the Junior Olympics, fueled my daughter’s love of sports. My son’s focus on music and art absolutely grew stronger with the myriad experiences he had in grades K-8. He is a passionate student of French, and we have Egan’s Patricia Clavijo to thank for lighting that spark.

It sure is tough times for students of all ages. Despite the valiant efforts of our local educators, distance learning just can’t match the experience of being in-person with teachers and peers. Within LAEF, we have seen donations to the foundation decline significantly due to the pandemic. We know the support is there, but family budgets are strained and the broader community need is great. We’ve seen a record number of local realtors step up through our 2021 Honor Roll of Realty program, and fitness studio Barre3 Los Altos held a fundraiser for LAEF, but fundraising remains down over 20% from last year.

I hope that as in-person learning and vaccine distribution accelerate, financial support of LAEF continues so that we can make good on our funding commitment to LASD.

We all hold out great hope that our kids’ education will soon be back to a closer sense of normal. Until then, my teens are making the best of the situation and pursuing their passions nonetheless. I am reassured when I hear the bouncing of my daughter’s basketball and the sweet sounds of my son playing his self-built clavichord that they have strong foundational experiences that will continue to guide them through life’s ups and downs. I want future LASD students to have the same.

Stephanie Dauer is a Los Altos resident, chair of the LAEF board and a docent with the LAEF-funded Los Altos Art Docents program.