Community Foundation has broad impact on Polk County Schools

Polk County Cadets take the field in their new uniforms, purchased with help from the Polk County Community Foundation.

When Cindy Gilbert watches her Polk County Cadets take the field for a performance, halftime show or competition, she cannot help but think of the Polk County Community Foundation’s impact on her program.

“The Polk County Community Foundation has had a huge impact on the band program of Polk County Schools, and the entire community benefits from these grants that we receive for the band,” said Gilbert, who leads Polk County High School’s band program. “Every time this band program performs somewhere in the community, The Foundation has had an impact on that performance and those community members.”

PCCF is well-known throughout the county for its mission to improve the quality of life for all citizens. The Foundation manages endowment funds and charitable donations and, among other efforts, turns those gifts into grants for local non-profits and scholarships for area students.

Polk County Schools benefits greatly each year from PCCF grants beyond those financial gifts to college-bound seniors. In the past 12 months alone the Foundation has:

* Awarded almost $50,000 to the PCHS band program to eliminate student fees and help purchase new uniforms
* Funded college visits for Sunny View Elementary fifth graders
* Provided funds for school counselors throughout the district to attend professional development programs and conferences
* Helped bring an AmeriCorps Project MARS counselor to the district to work directly with students during the school day and after school
* Funded two student interns for Polk County High School’s farm
* Funded summer camps for gifted and talented students
* Provided fruit for every elementary school student in the county from Polk County’s FFA
* Provided scholarships for students to attend Duke TIP Summer Studies sessions
* Funded a full-time college advisor at Polk County High School and Polk County Early College

“Numerous students and families in Polk County have been impacted by the generosity of PCCF donors,” said Ronette Dill, Director of Curriculum & Instruction for Polk County Schools. “Many students have participated in enriching activities such as band, Duke TIP and Summer AIG Seminars at no cost to families thanks to PCCF grant funding awarded to the school system.

“The Polk County Community Foundation’s grant funding allows teachers and administrators to offer experiences for students that not only support them academically, but also socially and emotionally, which is a focus of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s ‘Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model.’ ”

PCCF grants have been especially important to the band program at Polk County High School and Polk County Middle School. Financial assistance from the special music fund established by Robin McCall at the Foundation has helped provide instruments to sixth graders who could not afford to purchase one as well as purchase new percussion and brass equipment. For the past three years, the Foundation has also awarded $450 per high school student to cover the costs of student fees.

“With the state cutting funding for music education in the past few years, the administration has had to make difficult decisions about which programs to keep and which to de-fund,” Gilbert said. “The band program was not able to escape those cuts and, without the Foundation and its support, we would not have the needed equipment to keep the band program running in the manner that we do.

“The new uniforms alone have given the band students pride in their program and themselves. There is a different attitude in the students and their individual posture in their new uniforms. The students stand with pride, they carry themselves and their instruments with more respect and their performances are superior.”

Polk County school counselors Ashley Blackwell, Langlee Garrett, Meghan Mauldin, Katy Montgomery, Tamara Black and Sherrie Huffman attended the North Carolina School Counselor Association conference in Greensboro with a grant from the Polk County Community Foundation.

PCCF grants have not only helped students, but district staff members as well. Polk County Middle School counselor Langlee Rogers is one of several counselors in the district who have attended national and state conferences.

“Being in a small county, we are limited in our resources, and by going to the state conference I was able to connect with other middle school counselors who are seeing some of the same issues and concerns we see in our state,” said Rogers, who attended the North Carolina School Counselor Association Conference in Greensboro and the American School Counselor Conference in New Orleans.

“Being able to connect with others has been a tremendous help in my everyday job because I now follow those counselors on social media, blogs or we correspond through email. This is an invaluable resource and I would not have this if I had not attended the conference. Specifically, it has helped me become more organized in my role as a school counselor. Other counselors taught sessions about being organized and using technology but keeping all information confidential. This has helped me as well in my everyday job.”

Through the New Orleans conference, Rogers was able to gain insight into working with at-risk students and the issues that students face with social media and technology.

“For the ASCA conference, it is hard to put into words what an experience like this was for me,” she said. “School counselors from all walks of life and all over the country attended this conference. I was able to connect with a variety of school counselors and get invaluable resources from them and the sessions I attended.

“The technology piece was an eye-opening experience because different topics were exposed on the national level that we have not seen in Polk County yet. It is good to be proactive and aware of issues with technology and educate others before we see problems.”

PCCF’s commitment to the district’s top students have led to the AIG Summer Seminars program, in which district teachers spend a week during summer vacation teaching speciality courses that are free for students, as well as scholarships for the Duke TIP program.

Polk County students work with Lego robotics during an AIG Summer Seminar.

Duke TIP students are invited to take the SAT or ACT as seventh graders, and those who score well enough are invited to attend three-week camps on college campuses focusing on specific topics. In the past five years, more than 125 full scholarships, each worth around $4,000, have been awarded to area students, many of whom have called the experience “life-changing.”

“For decades they have provided incredible support for our students, staff, and schools,” said Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene. “Their impact on teaching and learning in the district is immeasurable and far-reaching. Scholarships, grants and funding for programs afford our students opportunities they would not otherwise have.

“A longtime partner with Polk County Schools, the Foundation’s help enables us to elevate the quality of educational experiences we are able to provide students. Polk County Community Foundation also does amazing work with other local organizations, helping us all work together to meet needs and serve people. We are indeed fortunate to have such a wonderful organization working with and for our communities and schools.”

And the impact of that organization can not only be seen, but heard every time the Polk County Cadets raise their instruments in beautiful harmony.

“There is no way to truly describe the significance the funding has had on me, as the band leader, the students and the program itself,” Gilbert said. “The band at PCHS provides opportunities for students who would likely never have such experiences in their high school years, and the impression it makes is like no other.”