A Letter from the President

Dear Readers,

A happy and healthy new year to you all!  In our communities in Nebraska, the vaccine is rolling out on a tiered system and it is going well.  Our District is working diligently to return students to 100% in-person learning in February and excitement is building.  While we know that not all students will return to the buildings immediately until the vaccination is community-wide, it does bring hope for those who have potentially struggled remotely or felt isolated to return to being with others.  Credit recovery will be an issue for students all over the country, but I continue to hear how Foundation’s are working with their Districts on a variety of levels to assist.

Many of us partner with our local food banks and this winter was no exception.  There continue to be significant struggles for families around the country, many of whom who have never had to use this resource.  For the Foundations who assist with social service needs or who developed a special Covid related fund for students and faculty, a special thank you for the work.  It did not go unnoticed.

At our Foundation, January begins the scholarship process for many of our seniors.  A special thank you to the many colleagues across the country who shared their scholarship protocols and systems as our team decided to make an upgrade toward better service.  That’s the thing about the NSFA; We are here for each other and whether you find us on social media and pose questions, or you reach out to each other by phone or email, we are a phenomenal community of support who will readily share information.  While I am sorry not to see you in person at this year’s national conference, I can’t wait to meet you virtually.  A special thanks to our conference committee and the team at AMI.  This promises to be an incredible opportunity for all and you won’t want to miss it.  Make sure you are registered and please reach out if you need questions answered at toba.cohendunning@ops.org.


Toba Cohen-Dunning, CEFL, MSW, MPA
President, National School Foundation Association

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Bag, Barter or Better Your Way, One Degree at a Time

By: Tracy Burger, Director of Member Development at Consortium of Florida Education Foundations

Over the past several months we’ve noticed a kind of “cognitive fatigue” wash over our members and people we work with. We in the nonprofit education industry—the “helpers of the helpers”--are prone to giving more than receiving, it’s just in our DNA. But when you do that day in and day out, day in and day out, over and over again, exhaustion surges down on you like a river after a rainstorm, taking your capacity to function downstream and out of sight. Our systems just weren’t built to withstand months of onslaught and constant adapting, pivoting, challenges, stressors.

But what if you could be just one degree better? That doesn’t seem like a lot, but what if you could feel one degree better every day for the next month? That would be a big change in how you feel, how you function and how you interact with others.

Experts recommend we give ourselves permission to slow down, include non-work activities like exercise and meditation in our day, connect with our support network, set boundaries and manage expectations for self. Good tips but sometimes easier said than done (and it also sounds like a lot more things on our “to do” list).

Here is something you can do in the moment when you are feeling especially stressed and overwhelmed.

  1. Listen to your body. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths (AKA belly, abdominal or diaphragmatic breaths). All the way in. All the way out. Again. One more time.
  2. Think about some things on your to do list. These can be big or small, stressful or not so stressful, but things you think you have to do in the next day or two. Think about one of those things—what it takes to do it, who is involved, where you are. How does that feel in your body? Does your chest tighten? Your shoulders sag? Or maybe you notice a smile on your face? Whatever your body’s reaction, let’s think about ways you can make that task one degree better (adapted from Martha Beck):
  • Can you BAG IT? Who says you have to do it anyway? Who says it has to be done by a certain date and time? Who says YOU have to do it? Is this item really a “have to” or do you have misguided beliefs directing your day? Our Bay Education Foundation team “bags it” (at least temporarily) by meeting at the dumpsters behind their building when they’ve had enough and need a break. (We can do this right now in Florida.)
  • Can you BARTER IT by trading or delegating the task or parts of it? Is someone else just as capable as you able to complete the task and can you return the favor with something more palatable to you?
  • Can you BETTER IT by adding fun, positive elements? Can you complete the task by having a walking meeting or Jive Talkin’ with the Bee Gees? Creativity counts here.

Making one small change to daily tasks you would rather avoid may not equate to immediate changes, but it’s like turning a ship one degree in the right direction. When you keep making these small changes, you’ll find yourself in a very different place in a few days, weeks and months.

A note about deep breathing. For many of us, this is an unnatural feeling—we all want the six-pack abs (e.g., flat stomach look), but this can cause shallow breathing which limits the lower lungs in getting the oxygenated air it craves, making you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep breathing is a simple way to elicit the relaxation response (rather than the stress response). Breathe in slowly through your nose and allow your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose if that feels more natural).

And remember grace matters—giving it first to our ourself so that we can give it to others. To a certain extent, those of us who are “helpers” get energized through service. That holds true for the helpers around you as well, so by trying to handle everything yourself you may inadvertently deny others the opportunity to support and serve you. So be gentle with yourself. Bag unnecessary tasks--do you really have to attend that committee meeting? Trade out a dreary task with someone just as capable—can a volunteer do that data entry? If all else fails, put on your favorite tunes and dig in.

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About the Author

Tracy Burger
Director of Member Development
Consortium of Florida Education Foundations

The Consortium of Florida Education Foundations is a 64-member statewide organization that works with members and partners to connect individuals, organizations and financial resources, building the capacity and effectiveness of Florida’s local education foundations. The Consortium regularly convenes its member foundations for professional development opportunities and actively promotes the sharing of leading practices in quarterly in-person forums, shared interest groups and virtual learning.

Tracy has been with the Consortium since 2012 and currently serves as Director of Member Development. In this role, she completes ongoing needs assessments of member foundations and is responsible for supporting members in growing and maintaining strong organizations, ensuring quality professional development opportunities, vetting best practices, offering Consortium services and actively encouraging member-to-member relationships and networking opportunities.

Tracy has more than 15 prior years of experience working in various roles in the nonprofit sector including staff, director, board member and officer. She is currently working on her coaching certification through the International Coaching Federation.

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Cheering for Scholars From a Distance - How the Camden Schools Foundation rolled with the punches and delivered an impactful scholarship event during the pandemic

By: Dawn M. Epstein, Executive Director of the Camden Schools Foundation

The Camden Schools Foundation (CSF) supports the students and schools in Camden, NJ. Since 2007, the foundation has awarded more than $1M in scholarships and grants in Camden. Every June CSF hosts a Golf Outing to raise scholarship funds for graduating seniors. A core element of the foundation’s mission is to provide graduating seniors with scholarships to help cover the costs of going to college. Unlike academic or need-based scholarships, the
scholarships from CSF are unrestricted. Students from Camden can use their scholarships for laptops, books, clothes, plane tickets, whatever helps them get to college and succeed once they are there.

In March of 2020, like so many other organizations we were faced with the prospect of having to cancel our Golf Outing. We ended up moving it to the fall when we (hopefully) would be able to hold the event.

But that raised the question – what about the students? By September, our graduates would be in college and not necessarily able to come to an event to be celebrated. Of course, we could mail their checks, but where was the fun in that? Part of the joy of the Golf Outing over the years was getting to meet the students and have their families share in this proud moment. Inspired by the drive-by birthday parties and wave parades that began popping up in the late
spring, the Board of Trustees decided to hold a check pick up event. This would give the students a chance to come get their checks and be celebrated for all their achievements.

“These students are our heroes. They represent all five public high schools and one renaissance charter school in Camden,” said Jack Tarditi, CSF Board President. “We couldn’t be prouder of all they have accomplished.”

With the help of the Camden Parking Authority, CSF was able to set up a drive through station where students came to receive their checks, goody bags, and pose for photos while the Board of Trustees cheered them on. Festive balloons and a gigantic check with their name on it made the event even more fun. All the local TV stations came out to cover the event, eager to report on an uplifting story during such a difficult time.

“This event reminded us all why we do what we do,” said Dawn Epstein, CSF Executive Director. “Seeing the students and their families as they received their scholarships was so uplifting. We are so proud of them.”

The Foundation held its golf outing in September 2020 and provided sponsors and guests with an opportunity to hear stories of thanks from scholarship recipients about how the funds made a difference during their transition to college. Using the photos and videos from the check pick up event in the marketing materials for the Golf Outing helped us surpass our fundraising goal of $70,000. During an unprecedented time, we were grateful to be able to take one canceled event and turn it into two different, but very successful events.

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Dawn Epstein

Dawn Epstein is the Executive Director of the Camden Schools Foundation. She has spent her career in nonprofit management and fundraising across a variety of educational and health related nonprofits. Additionally, she serves as an adjunct professor of marketing and communications at The College of New Jersey where she earned her Bachelor's in Communication Studies. She also has a Master's of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. She lives in Cherry Hill, NJ with her husband, two daughters, and Bernedoodle puppy. 


The College Enrollment Decline is a National Emergency Requiring Community Solutions

By: Matt Gandal, President & CEO, Education Strategy Group

In December, new data illustrated in concrete terms a largely silent emergency brought on by the pandemic: dramatic and alarming drops in the number of students enrolling in higher education. The number of students going to college directly after high school fell by a stunning 22 percent this fall, and the statistics are even worse for students of color and from low-income families. Without sweeping, immediate action from philanthropy, practitioners, and all levels of government, we risk losing an entire generation of students, who may one day be known as a “lost COVID cohort.”
This challenge comes at a time when postsecondary degrees and credentials matter more than ever before; nearly every job created over the last decade required higher education or training. The post-pandemic economy will undoubtedly cement that trend. A high school diploma is simply not a ticket to success anymore. If large swaths of students who were expected to pursue higher education do not enroll, millions will be shut out of economic recovery. The fact that those not enrolling are disproportionately poor and/or students of color indicates a near-certain likelihood that existing economic opportunity gaps will only worsen. The consequences could reverberate for a generation or more.
In order to reverse this troubling trend, schools, districts, and student support organizations will need to ramp up effective interventions even while they are in the midst of determining whether and when to re-open schools. Our most vulnerable students can’t wait until things have settled down to receive help. Below are several high-impact opportunities for local education foundations to help their schools make a meaningful difference in preventing a generational crisis.
Prioritize the most vulnerable students now: If high schools wait until later in the school year to focus on the students who are at greatest risk of dropping out of the college pipeline, it will be too late to help them. To avoid a repeat of this fall’s enrollment decline, schools and districts need immediate resources to support the students at greatest risk. Two actions have been proven to be difference-makers in helping low-income students and students of color transition to postsecondary education: applying to two or more colleges and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Philanthropy can provide emergency resources for districts and their college access partners to dramatically expand outreach and design new technologies to engage students around FAFSA completion (such as the Future Focused TX campaign), sponsor competitions with prizes for schools with highest FAFSA completion and college application rates, and bolster counseling capacity to help students complete both the FAFSA and college applications.

Expand networks of student support: Expanding access to postsecondary advisors can lead to dramatic increases in enrollment and attainment. We are encouraged by organizations, such as College Advising Corps, that have dramatically reshaped their approach to advising through virtual settings in response to the pandemic, and believe even more can be done. We are also emboldened by new philanthropy-driven initiatives, like the Tennessee Tutoring Corps from the Bill and Chrissy Haslam Foundation, that pair recent college graduates with students struggling to recoup learning loss as a result of the pandemic. Either through the development of state or regional advising corps or scaling the reach near-peer tutors, expanding this capacity serves the dual purpose of employing recent college graduates and creating critical social networks for traditionally underserved high school students.

Help students build college momentum: Learning disruptions from the pandemic will undoubtedly lead to many students graduating from high school academically unprepared to succeed in college, significantly limiting their long-term chance for success. This past summer, some states and colleges used federal CARES Act funds to innovate in this area. Texas provided financial incentives to students for completing summer coursework that enabled them to place directly into credit-bearing courses upon college enrollment. Northern Virginia Community College offered free summer dual enrollment courses to students in fields with growing job opportunities. Philanthropy can fund the implementation of successful innovations like those mentioned above at scale, providing resources that supplement CARES Act funds so that more localities can replicate and institute creative interventions. A philanthropy-sponsored competition could spur additional innovation among districts and schools who may have ideas about reaching and supporting students but lack the resources to do so.

Focus on the measures that matter for postsecondary access and success: There are nearly 7,000 high schools in America in which Black, Hispanic, or low-income students have less than a 50 percent chance of enrolling in higher education after graduation. That is tragic, and it was the case before COVID. To change the trajectory of these “coin flip” high schools, there must be a greater focus on the most predictive measures of postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and success. The collection and public reporting of disaggregated data on a set of “Momentum Metrics” that predict students’ ability to successfully transition into and through college should be the new normal for every community. Philanthropy has a critical role to play in designing its funding and measurement strategies around the measures that matter most for students’ long-term success.
It will take coordinated effort across educators, government, and philanthropy to protect against a lost COVID cohort, but this crisis is simply too great to ignore. Getting students to and through college amidst the pandemic must be a national priority, or we’ll see a generation’s economic opportunity crumble before our eyes.

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Matt Gandal
President & CEO, Education Strategy Group

Matt Gandal is the President and CEO of Education Strategy Group and previously served as a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during the Obama administration. He is also Board Chair of the local high school educational foundation in Montgomery County, MD. 

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