To directly fund teacher-led endeavors like school gardens, ukulele classes and field trips, the Spokane Public Schools Foundation received a $75,000 grant, with a specific focus on projects to uplift marginalized communities.
The grant is the biggest the foundation has received, according to SPSF president Sam Song, awarded by College Spark Washington, a statewide organization aiming to dismantle racist systems and their legacies in education through grant writing. They awarded the foundation because of its model that directs money to teachers, funding passion projects like Ryan West’s engineering programs and Andrea Bass’ multicultural book club, both at North Central High School.
“Education is the most effective way to change the future,” Song said. “And teachers are the best resources to achieve that goal.”
Bass, a library clerk at all of the district’s high schools, solicited grant funding for an after-school multicultural book club at North Central. Bass holds two clubs a year, open to staff and students, where participants meet around three times monthly. The club sees up to 20 attendees, Bass said, who all get to keep a fresh copy of the book they’re reading.
“(The students) are so smart, so wise, the fact that they get to keep a brand new book, that’s a big deal to some of our kids,” Bass said. “This grant funding allows that to happen.”
Bass selects books portraying diverse subjects from perspectives of marginalized groups, one of her favorites that resonated with students was comedian Trevor Noah’s memoir “Born a Crime.”
Bass has been working in North Central’s library since 2018 and said the foundation has funded the book club every year since she was hired. Bass sources books from local Spokane bookstores to keep the money in the community. This year, Bass is using a $700 grant to buy graphic novels for the book club. She’s also received a grant to pioneer a similar club at Lewis and Clark High School and another to stock North Central and Lewis and Clark’s library stacks with books by diverse authors.
West has taught at North Central since 2015 and received four separate grants from the foundation. An engineering teacher, his coursework can get pricey. He solicits grants to upgrade equipment, purchase robotic arms and laser cutters for student use. Kids in his classes build and code machines, such as self-driving toy cars and robots that can sort marbles by material.
In addition to challenging students academically and offering them hands-on learning opportunities, West said his classes can serve as an introduction to trades students may pursue post-graduation. Much of the technology students use mirrors that used in the manufacturing industry.
“Hopefully it’s kind of inspiring them, you can do this at the next level, you can get a certification,” West said. “There’s tons of manufacturing jobs in Spokane and they’re all looking for people, so the more we can feed them that stuff and get them excited, give them hope that they can do this, the better.”
Bass and West are two from a list of 65 educators whose programs were supported through foundation grants last school year. That year, the foundation distributed $95,000 directly to Spokane Public School teachers, with amounts ranging from $140 to $2,500.
“Every penny that comes into the foundation comes back to the teachers,” Song said.
The $75,000 grant is going to be parceled out over seven years, Song said. In alignment with College Spark’s mission of advancing equity in education, Song said the foundation will prioritize distribution to programs that enhance diversity and inclusion in schools.