Philanthropy provides billions of dollars to schools and educational programs each year. Much of this cash comes from corporate America, who views contributing to education as an important way to give back to the community. While many companies support education directly via equipment, money grants, and professional development, other companies have chosen to spin off their own foundations.
Although tied to the parent company, a corporate foundation is a separate legal entity with its own board of trustees and philanthropic mission. Most corporate foundations have an RFP process to distribute grant money. (Editor's note: You can find many of these companies on Technology & Learning's grants database: techlearning.com/resources/grants.jhtml.)
More and more, however, corporate foundations have taken to directly funding and implementing their own programs. These foundations believe they have something unique to offer, will affect a broader population of students, and can engage interested schools more easily by managing their own initiatives. Featured below are three such programs.
The IBM International Foundation
KidSmart Early Learning
The Scoop: KidSmart Early Learning brings interactive teaching and learning activities to students in pre-K through grade three. The centerpiece of KidSmart is the Young Explorer from Little Tikes, a colorful "kid-proof" educational play station — literally a piece of furniture integrated with a PC — complete with a built-in CPU, color monitor, CD-ROM drive, keyboard, mousepads, flat desk area, and bench seat that fits two children. Each Young Explorer is loaded with early learning software, and IBM provides the professional development and ongoing resources to help teachers integrate its use in a classroom program. According to Stanley Litow, president of the foundation, "Our KidSmart Early Learning program is an example of how IBM can combine its best assets — our technology and our talented employees — to create a program that brings real value to the community."
Backing up Litow's claim is an evaluation conducted by the Bank Street College of Education, which found that teachers who participated in the project grew significantly more adept at integrating technology into their instruction. In addition, teachers reported that children's comfort levels using computers increased.
How It Works: The IBM International Foundation gives away 2,500 Young Explorers each year in the United States. The program is now being implemented in more than 200 cities in all 50 states in the U.S. as well as globally. IBM also launched a new Web site for early learning and technology at www.kidsmartearlylearning.org, where educators can find several resources for using technology appropriately with early learners.
Get Involved: KidSmart partnerships are made through IBM's network of global corporate community relations managers, who work with the schools, Head Start, and day care centers that benefit from the IBM International Foundation's Young Explorer giveaways. Interested schools can locate the appropriate regional community relations office at www.ibm.com/ibm/ibmgives/grant/us_addrs.shtml.
The Oracle Education Foundation
The Scoop: Every day thousands of students and teachers view ThinkQuest Web sites to learn about subjects far and wide. The sites are products of the ThinkQuest competition, an annual program that challenges students from around the globe to produce world class Web sites. Participants gain a variety of skills, including organization, teamwork, content design, Web design, and, of course, an incredibly in-depth knowledge of their own selected subject. Last year's winners included an elementary team from Fayetteville, Georgia who produced an information-rich site on crocodiles as well as a multinational high school team with members from Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore, and the USA who worked together to create a site that examines the rise and impact of the Third Reich.
How It Works: The annual competition is open to students ages 9-19. Each team comprises three to six students and a teacher who acts as a coach. Diverse teams made up of members from more than one school, community, or country are encouraged, but not required. Enrollment begins in the summer and runs through the winter, with final Web site submissions due in the spring. All teams are included in an international peer review process to give and receive feedback. The completed sites are then reviewed by a panel of judges for educational content, design, use of technology, and other criteria to select winners in three age groups, as well as for "best of categories."
Get Involved: Everyone that signs up is welcome to take part in the program. Teacher-student teams sign up online at the ThinkQuest Web site.
The Pearson Foundation
Digital Arts Alliance
The Scoop: The Digital Arts Alliance helps middle and high school teachers deliver basic education, "employability," and life-skills curriculum to their students via computer-based projects. For example, student groups in a science class can research, storyboard, script, and produce three-minute documentary films about earthquakes complete with narration, photos, and diagrams. Or students in a high school academy program can create personal multimedia portfolios. This hands-on, project-based approach results in "something special for students," says the foundation's president Mark Nieker. "They have the opportunity to use computers to create something that's genuinely important to them. At the same time, teachers are given the in-class support they need to feel comfortable integrating technology within their curriculum."
How It Works: The Alliance offers three interrelated programs to get teachers up to speed. Week-long Classroom Residencies offer teachers customized in-class digital arts workshops that integrate with any area of the curriculum. The Summer Institute brings professional development right to each school, presenting a customized workshop over two to five days that lets teachers explore their own approaches to digital arts and then develop unit plans to use in the subsequent school year. At the end of these sessions, participating teachers receive the Digital Arts Classroom Library, which offers activities, lesson-plans, and additional tools that can be used to extend digital arts projects across the curriculum.
Best of all, the foundation supplies schools with mobile computer labs for the length of the program. Outfitted with the latest applications such as Adobe Premiere, Adobe Photoshop, and Macromedia Dreamweaver and hardware that includes laptops, data storage drives, microphones, and video and digital cameras, the labs have everything a school needs to complete projects.
Get Involved: The foundation plans to bring the program to over 100 sites nationwide in the upcoming school year. Interested schools should send a letter of inquiry to email@example.com. In order to expand the program, the foundation is open to partnering with corporate sponsors interested in supporting Digital Arts Alliance programs in their local/ regional communities. In the Irving Independent School District in Texas, for example, Nokia is co-sponsoring implementation.
Peter Weinstein, a ten-year veteran of the classroom, provides consulting through Mindful Solutions (www.mindfulsolutions.us), including program development for The Pearson Foundation.