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Claysburg Education Foundation Pays off Student Lunch Debts


January 2, 2020

Courtesy photo

The Claysburg Education Foundation has provided funding for STEM programs at Claysburg-Kimmel. The foundation also paid off approximately 100 student lunch accounts so kids can have a fresh start entering the second half of the school year.

More than 11 million children, about one out of every seven living in the United States, lives with hunger.

Often, a school lunch may be the only meal such a child receives on any given day, which can lead to another problem – not being able to pay for lunch. That then leads to an increasing lunch account that places an even greater burden on their already financially strapped parents.

During the first half of this school year, Claysburg-Kimmel had approximately 100 students delinquent on their lunch accounts, totaling about $1,100.

A spur-of-the-moment decision by the Claysburg Education Foundation wiped out every student's lunch debt, giving each student a fresh start for the second half of the school year.

Foundation Boardmember Rich Allison said the idea to pay off the lunch debts came from a hallway conversation after the board's annual wrap-up meeting with the district Superintendent Darren McLaurin.

"We were having a wrap-up meeting with the superintendent the week before Christmas and we talked about doing something good for the community," Allison said.

A quick conversation with district Business Manager Michelle Smithmyer informed the foundation board that there were about 100 students in need of help with their school lunch accounts.

"We decided on the spot that we needed to take care of this," Allison said. "Even if it's just $10 a kid, it could be food on the table for Christmas."

Allison said that Claysburg's poverty rate is at about 65 percent and that paying off the lunch debt gave parents one less thing to worry about over the holidays.

Allison said that the foundation board members felt strongly about paying off the lunch debt not only as an act of kindness, but also that it fit in the foundation's mission of better education for the district's students.

"We feel strongly that if students aren't eating well, that can affect their performance in school," Allison said. "We feel strongly that kids having food to eat is as critical to helping their performance in school as anything."

Getting it going

Helping relieve the burden of lunch debts is just one way the foundation has benefitted students in the Claysburg-Kimmel School District since its inception nearly six years ago.

The Claysburg Education Foundation began in 2014 out of concern about the quality of education at Claysburg-Kimmel and the need for a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program.

"We asked the high school principals of the elementary and high school at the time what they would like to have to help them and they said they would like to see a STEM program," Allison said. "We formed the foundation for that purpose initially."

An alumni donation of $55,000 got the foundation started with an after-school and summer-school program.

"Since then we have had summer STEM programs every year," Allison said. "It's not just for kids in the Claysburg district, but surrounding districts also."

Allison said about 70 students attend the STEM program every summer.

Independent funding

The Claysburg Education Foundation works independently from the district and secures its funding from outside sources.

"We get funding through EITC credits, individual donations and fundraisers," Allison said.

Allison said the foundation gives most often to technology-based needs so students have every advantage they need to learn in today's environment.

"We do a lot if it's technology," Allison said. "For example, video equipment and computers. The more technology-related it is, the more we tend to give."

Allison said that as financing increased, the foundation was able to expand its giving to the school programs.

"We funded a program called "Project Lead the Way," which is another STEM-based program," Allison said. "We have also provided iPads for every student in first through 12th grade."

The foundation has also paid for dual-enrollment for students who want to take college credit courses while still in high school.

"We knew that parents and kids didn't have the money to pay for the dual-enrollment credits, so we allotted the money and funded $26,000 so any kid who wanted to take dual-enrollment classes while at Claysburg-Kimmel, we paid for it," Allison said.

Beyond Claysburg

Allison said that for the coming year the foundation wants to focus more on the needs of parents and students as a group.

"We decided we are going to fund a lot of field trips for students to get out and see what is out there beyond Claysburg and Central Pennsylvania," he said. "A lot of our kids have not traveled very far and we think we need to financially help get them out to see what's out there."

Allison said the foundation wants to set up seminars for parents and students to help with things like filling out paperwork for dual-enrollment opportunities.

"Filling out the paperwork can be difficult for some of the colleges, so we want to help them through that," he said.

Allison said the foundation works well with the district and tries to accommodate any requests it has.

"We are very receptive to what the district asks us for," he said. "We rarely turn them down on anything. We might modify or work with them on a different perspective."

Allison said focusing this year on students and parents will give students a better opportunity to succeed. Whether it's a field trip to Penn State to observe 3-D printers in operation or to the Penn State Entrepreneurial Center, Allison said the foundation members strongly believe that kids need to have an experience with leadership and the entrepreneurial spirit.

"Getting them out will pique their interest and give them a better perspective of what's out there," Allison said. "Our objective is to have kids realize there are some great-paying jobs out there if you really work at it and want to go after it."

As the foundation enters a new decade, Allison said it continues to expand its areas of financial help.

"It's not just technology," he said. "A lot is, but we do a lot of other things. If we see a need, then yes, we absolutely try to fill it."


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