The non-profit Education Fund has been on a mission since 1985 to improve public education in Miami-Dade County.
Funded by grants from major corporations and foundations, the Fund gave away over $10 million in classroom supplies since its founding. It exists as a public/private partnership between the County School Board and the private sector, according to President Linda Lecht.
The Education Fund’s chief sponsor is Ocean Bank. Over twenty non-profit groups partner with the Fund like the Children’s Trust, Camillus House, Overtown Youth Center, and Miami Bridge. “Ocean Bank Center in Medley is a large warehouse where companies ship their excess inventory to assist our projects,” said Lecht. “In normal times, pre-COVID, it’s where teachers come to shop for free for their student needs.”
The Education Fund has twelve paid employees with a budget that permits funding up to nine projects a year, according to Lecht.
The Fund is a designated partner with the Kids in Need Foundation of Minnesota. That Foundation solicits major companies like Crayola or Office Depot and then ships that surplus to their certified non-profit affiliates.
“We’re it for Miami-Dade,” Lecht said. “We went through a rigorous vetting and have been a member for a few years. In the last three weeks we’ve given out over $200,000 in supplies.”
The Fund began a new project recently that distributed paper goods and cleaning supplies with school supplies to over 1300 families in need.
Lecht highlighted a $750 stipend program with a May 18 deadline for the mentor teacher program. Teachers with unique projects or ways of working can apply to train others how to do it. Applications are online on the Fund’s website www.educationfund.org or contact Audrey@educationfund.org for information.
SmartPath is another Fund program designed to encourage a culture of education beyond high school. Low-income students are encouraged to prepare successfully for college and careers. The program saw a 34% increase in college enrollment at pilot schools, including Homestead Senior High, and a 21% increase at all schools with the SmartPath program.
SmartPath activities include college fairs, sponsoring paid summer internships, taking college field trips, and offering workshops about scholarships and federal student loans.
“What we’ve been doing remotely is offering a series of webinars, for students and for teachers,” said Lecht. “Like with IMPACT, if a teacher wants to share their ideas, they can contact us for the ZOOM password.”
Ideas with IMPACT rewards innovative teachers and recently offered webinars on how to teach remotely. Lecht said the Fund put out an alert offering emergency grants to teachers who needed technical equipment – webcams, headphones, and other gear. About 270 teachers were awarded emergency grants.
IMPACT publishes an annual catalog of proven ideas for different teacher strategies. The program’s grants disseminate new best practices and adapt features for each teacher classroom.
A pilot program this past schoolyear was Student Power. The program has high school teachers teach government in a hands-on manner, training students how to reach out to decision-makers to create policy changes. Thirty Student Power programs were funded changing the way government is taught. “Senator Bob Graham’s book on the process is a teaching guide for that program,” said Lecht.
The Education Fund provides support for fine arts education at Miami-Dade Community College with the Art of Found Objects Exhibition each year. Students create original art from objects at the Ocean Bank Center warehouse. The pieces are judged and awarded, then auctioned at a charity gala. The proceeds benefit the school district’s visual arts program.
The Education Fund also sponsors fifty-one edible gardens in County K-8 schools around the county. Maintaining vegetable gardens encourages learning about nutrition and promotes healthy eating habits. “Edible gardens are kind of one-dimensional with traditional plants,” said Lecht.
The latest innovation is Food Forests for Schools. “This is an actual forest with trees and bushes and vines and plant covers,” said Lecht. “There are many different layers to a forest – and all the items in it are edible from ground cover to trees. We make sure these are all super foods. The Barbados cherry tree for example has the same vitamin C as sixteen oranges. Longevity and Malabar spinach are very dense in nutrition.”
Laura Saunders Elementary is one of 26 schools that participate in the Food Forest program. Avocado Elementary and Florida City Elementary both have edible gardens with Education Fund sponsorship.
“The food is used in the cafeteria and sent home to the families,” said Lecht.
“Edible gardens are also used as outdoor eco gardens to teach science. Over the past years, we’ve given out over 165,000 harvest bags full of produce to low-income families from schools averaging over 90% free lunches.”
Lecht said some vegetables are supplied to school culinary programs with food trucks that feed low income families and the homeless. The Fund sponsored teams that competed at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival as part of the Taste of Education.
The Teach-a-Thon is a project that brings business professionals into the classroom to appreciate the challenges of teaching. Winners of the CEO challenge in this program celebrate with a unique victory party – at a Food Forest installation during the annual Taste of Education showcase.