By Olivia Frenkel
As time passes and educational budgets across the country continue to diminish, school districts everywhere have begun looking to their communities for financial help. The West Contra Costa Unified School District is no exception. After the passage of Proposition 13 in 1983, funding for public education was severely cut, and curriculum was left bare-boned. However, glimmers of hope remained for West Contra Costa students in the form of the local Ed Fund.
The Ed Fund, or West Contra Costa’s Public Education Fund, is the WCCUSD’s lead agency to gather support from philanthropic agencies and local businesses to provide students with the resources taken from these budget cuts. These intermediary efforts began in 2010, once the Ed Fund began to see the detrimental effects of these budget cuts. At the beginning of 2011, they hosted collaboration meetings with representatives from West Contra Costa Unified School District, Contra Costa College, city recreation departments, community based organizations, and local governmental agencies which tested the waters for the Ed Fund in a liaison position. Four years later, the success of the collaboratives allowed the Ed Fund Board of Directors and staff to transition into a role as an intermediary organization. Their mission is to “mobilize resources for our students and align the efforts of our partners to ensure that all students succeed in college, career, and life” and whose vision is that “all children and youth in West Contra Costa County achieve their highest aspirations and help build healthy, safe, and vibrant communities for generations to come.”
Those statements ring true as the Ed Fund awards grants and scholarships to students, recognizes hard working teachers, and hosts their annual Soaring to Excellence Fundraiser. One example of the Ed Fund’s work is the Arts & Music grant from the Brad Bradley Bequest. In the 2018-2019 academic year alone, $24,000 was given to 39 projects across 25 public schools across the district. These grants range from $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the program and are given to select applicants each academic year. Some of the new mini programs include the Human Rights Tapestry Project at Pinole Valley High School, a Creative Art curriculum for Kindergarteners at Peres Elementary, and a visit from a creative writing poet for De Anza High School. A few of the school-wide grants include a Multicultural Music Education Program for Valley View High School, an Outdoor Mural for Pinole High School, and the Growing Garden Art and Gardening Program at Sheldon Elementary.
The range and diversity of these Brad Bradley programs is impressive and the grants have truly added another layer of quality education for the WCCUSD students. The Spoken Word Poetry Project at Greenwood Academy consists of “in-class spoken word poetry workshops where students write spoken word poems based on culturally relevant topics, poetic devices and guided conversations.” Further cultural exploration is used in the form of “hip hop and other art forms to connect writing with expressive mediums that students have experience with.” In Black Art and History Club at Washington Elementary, students “study a different African or African American art form, and black history hero, as well as do some hands on art practice.”
Other hands on exploration includes the study of “African textiles, such as kente cloth, Adinkra symbols, and learning about contemporary African American designers.” For the Directing Change Film Contest, Helms Middle school’s Movie Club “will be given the opportunity to create an original film that will be submitted for the contest and will be taught how to write a screenplay, audition, direct actors, film a scene, and edit a short film on topics such as suicide prevention, celebrating cultural differences, and mental health awareness, in order to support young people across California.”
The Ed Fund’s Brad Bradley Grants have restored and even revived art and music within the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Their work as a whole is incredibly significant as 71% of students qualify for free-or-reduced lunches, 35% of which are English Learners, and 85% come from historically underrepresented communities. The Ed Fund’s goals are completely student centered and in the words of the Ed Fund’s Executive Director, Jasmine Jones, “we look forward to strengthening our relationship with students, teachers, school administrators, and community as we align around a vision for student success in West Contra Costa.”