The Enrichment Fund for Guilford County Schools: Little Investments, Big Dividends

The thank-you notes we receive tell me so much.

They come from students in Guilford County Schools. Some are high school seniors; others are no older than 8. No matter their age, their sentiments are the same. They write about what they have never been able to do – until now.

They have never seen the ocean or gone to a conference. They have never traveled to Raleigh or flown to California to visit a national park or see a famous bridge before joining an international competition to unveil the energy-efficient car they built.

We, the members of the Enrichment Fund for Guilford County Schools, do love hearing about that. The money we award makes those experiences happen.

We’re all volunteers. We’re parents, current teachers, retired teachers and principals. All of us have one thing in common: We are passionate about public education in Guilford County.

Our non-profit began in 1993, the year three school systems in our county merged into one.

Four non-profit organizations — the Greensboro Public School Fund, the Greensboro Excellence Fund, the Guilford County Student Enrichment Fund and the High Point Education Foundation – came together, merged their assets and formed us.

We’re lean, no doubt about it. The only overhead we have is our post office box and our annual audit.

The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro manages our assets, and with our nearly $1 million in endowed funds and donations we receive from the community, we award on average about $100,000 a year in scholarships, grants, and mini-grants.

We fund people, not organizations, and the money we award can be as little as $20. But that $20 can ease a family’s financial concern, give a student confidence and allow a teacher to take learning to a whole new level. Little investments pay big dividends.

Opportunities like that touch hundreds of lives. It rewards teachers for being innovative and shows students how life-changing education can be beyond the classroom.

We all know schools can do only so much in 180 days and that some students can’t learn sitting in a chair. They need an opportunity to touch things, see things and immerse themselves in a world beyond the pages of a textbook or the four walls of a classroom.

We invest in students and teachers, allowing them to buy new equipment, new technology and new instruments to educate their students in a different way.

Or go on a field trip.

Ed Whiteheart, a longtime Kiser Middle School teacher, uses a mini-grant to take students like Souleymane Doumbia to the Outer Banks every year.

Ed Whiteheart, a longtime teacher at Kiser Middle School in Greensboro, has done that for years.

Every year, with the help of scholarships, he takes his eighth-graders to the Outer Banks. In one of his letters to our board, he described to us the expression he saw when one of his students scaled Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head for the first time.

Ed Whiteheart’s student was just in awe.

For us on the board, that is the face of joy. That is the feeling we sense and see in the thank-you notes we receive. I remember many of them. But there is one I’ll never forget.

It came from a third-grader, and he wrote his note in pencil with big printed letters. He had gone on a field trip to Raleigh. He went on a bus, ate in a restaurant and visited the State Capitol Building. He wanted to thank us for making it happen.

From his note, I sensed that he had never been to Raleigh before. Yet, his note also showed me something I believe all of us can understand in our own lives: The journey is always just as important as the destination.

It reminds me of what Ricky Lewis, the automotive technology teacher at Dudley High said. He received a grant to take members of Dudley’s Advanced Vehicle Technology team to California last spring for the four-day competition known as the Shell Eco-Marathon.

Team members unveiled their energy-efficient car they built and received the Perseverance Award along with teams from Puerto Rico and Guatemala. On the 10-hour trip home, Ricky asked one of his students why he didn’t sleep.

“I just didn’t want to miss a thing!” the student told him.

These kinds of comments keep us board members going.

After nearly a decade on the Enrichment Fund, I’ve heard from many students, and it has shown me how little things can make a big difference in the lives of our students and teachers.

Yes, we all know budgets are strained, activities are limited, and teachers are constantly hustling to cover what’s required. And we all know how diligent we must be to address the ever-changing needs of public education.

But we can’t forget how these little things right in front of us – a conference, a competition or a field trip – can change a student’s life. Think about what can happen.

I love to hear about those moments. I hope you do, too.

Michelle Schneider, the chair of the Enrichment Fund for Guilford County Schools, wrote this op-ed for the December 23, 2018 News & Record.