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Informed and engaged


Foundation offers much-needed hand-up to city’s most desperate students and families.

Mark Beutler September 11th, 2013

More than 17,000 students in Oklahoma City Public Schools live in households making $11,000 a year or less. It’s a sobering statistic, one the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation is trying to change.

Lori Dickinson and Constance

Lori Dickinson is entering her fifth year as the foundation’s president. Her passion and enthusiasm is apparent as she talks animatedly about the district and its kids.

“So many of our children do not know what the statistics say about their future,” Dickinson said.

“They dream, they play, they learn. I still can’t fathom 2,200 of our students are homeless. I can’t believe I never knew before joining the foundation that 35,000 students live at or below the federal poverty line. Once I knew the truth, it changed my world.”

The foundation, funded by individual donors, corporate donors and other foundations in the form of grants, fills a unique role by providing extra financial support that students’ families may not be able to provide to Oklahoma City Public Schools — it might be classroom and student supplies, costs associated with students participating in academic and artistic competition or financially supporting innovative and creative teaching concepts.

With Dickinson, the foundation has gone from impacting 2,000 students to 40,000. Also, funding going directly to schools has increased from $50,000 to $720,000.

“It speaks volumes about the potential of Oklahoma City to completely embrace our schools,” Dickinson said. “However, our annual budget is just over $2 million, and when simply divided by 45,000 students, that’s an annual investment of just $44 per child — so we have miles to go.”

One student in particular has impacted Dickinson’s outlook and reinforced her dedication to the district.

“Constance is a beautiful fourthgrader at North Highland Elementary who is funny, smart and incredibly loving.

I’ve been mentoring her for three years, and she has taught me so much and challenged all my preconceived notions of urban schools.

“Within a one-mile radius of her home and school, there have been over 130 major crimes in just the first six months of 2013. There was a murder in her neighborhood park two years ago. I’ve heard her classmates speak of shootings, assault and friends who move without notice,” Dickinson said.

“Her mother works hard. She loves her children, and she wants more for them. Constance has taught me to see the world through the same eyes I see my own children. ... Constance is Oklahoma City.”

About six months ago, the foundation began live-streaming school board meetings. The response was positive, Dickinson says, and it’s another way parents, teachers and the community become informed and engaged.

“My passion is moving Oklahomans to stop talking about ‘those kids’ and start helping ‘our kids,’” Dickinson said. “We must always be mindful our kids are not statistics — they are children. They are smart, talented, capable children.

“I hope for a day when we are as passionate about all our students, schools and teachers as we are about professional teams, skyscrapers, parks and entertainment regions.”

 
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