September 29, 2020
WCCF Announces $70,000 in COVID-19 Grants to Public Schools
EIGHTY FOUR, Pa. – The Washington County Community Foundation (WCCF) is pleased to announce that it has issued grants from its Close to Home Disaster and Emergency Fund to the 14 public school districts in Washington County to help support the education of financially needy students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grants of $5,000 each were awarded to the following school districts: Avella, Bentworth, Bethlehem-Center, Burgettstown, California, Canon-McMillan, Charleroi, Chartiers-Houston, Fort Cherry, McGuffey, Peters, Ringgold, Trinity, and Washington. In total, $70,000 has been awarded.
“During disasters and emergencies, it is always the financially distressed who suffer the most,” said Betsie Trew, WCCF President & CEO. “These individuals struggle when times are good, and lack the resources to address additional expenses that arise when times become challenging. As all of our local school districts have been forced to implement elements of remote learning due to the virus, we knew that low-income students without sufficient technology in the home could quickly fall behind in their education. Another consideration is that many areas in the rural school districts are without reliable internet access, so alternate learning strategies are needed for these students. We commend the leadership of our public schools for their ingenuity in developing creative strategies best suited for the students within their districts.”
After conferring with representatives of the school districts, it was determined that the best course of action would be to provide grants targeted to purchasing technology and other items for students within each district who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. According to information compiled by the Kids Count data center of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, every school district in Washington County has students who qualify for this Federal income-based program and in total there are approximately 11,000 students in the county who qualify.
School districts may use the Close to Home grants to purchase computers, hotspots, flash drives or other technology or other items deemed necessary to educate needy students during the pandemic. The specific use of each $5,000 grant will be determined by each school district, but the grant must be targeted to the neediest of students within each district.
Of the 14 public school districts in Washington County, the Washington School District has the greatest percentage of its overall enrollment who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. It will use its grant to purchase webcams, laptops and internet devices for needy students.
“With the purchase of these webcams, over 1,500 students will be impacted through virtual learning,” remarked Dr. James Konrad, Superintendent, Washington School District. “As we are on a hybrid schedule, all of our students are doing school work online and this will give teachers and students the opportunity to communicate and support learning when they aren't in the classroom.” The remaining money from the grant will be used to purchase laptops for seven needy students in the Washington School District.
The California Area School District in the Mon Valley provides instruction to many needy students, and is utilizing a variety of strategies, including using existing school resources in novel ways.
“We have equipped some school buses with mobile WiFi units and will have a bus driver park in a common community area, enabling us to support up to 100 students each day,” said California Area School District Superintendent Dr Laura Jacob. “Jetpacks will be used to provide internet access to between 30 and 50 students. For those rare instances where families have no cellular signal or possible wired connection, we are providing the ‘Internet in a Box’ with key educational material downloaded into the box to provide an experience similar to being on-line.”
Located in the northwest corner of the county, Burgettstown Area School District has many students who live in rural areas that lack internet access. The Washington County Commissioners recently announced that Federal grant money was being designated to provide internet access to the Burgettstown and surrounding communities, but of course it will take time to install the new communication lines. So, the Burgettstown School District had to develop an alternate strategy for remote learning.
“We purchased USB drives on which we are loading video presentations and assignments for students to complete from home where there is no connection to the internet,” said Dr. James Walsh, Superintendent, Burgettstown Area School District. “We are also providing technology support to four locations in the community where families can go in order to access the internet.”
Since the Close to Home Disaster and Emergency Fund was created by the WCCF Board in mid-March, a total of $400,000 has been awarded to nonprofits in Washington County. For a complete list of grantees and grant purposes, please visit the Foundation’s website at www.wccf.net. Additional contributions to the fund are encouraged to meet ongoing needs related to the pandemic. Gifts may be made by mailing a check to the WCCF at P.O. Box 308, Eighty Four, PA 15330 or by credit card via the website. For questions, please contact the WCCF at 724-222-6330 or email@example.com.
About the Washington County Community Foundation
The mission of the Washington County Community Foundation is to improve the quality of life in Washington County by promoting and facilitating philanthropy. It was one of the first community foundations in the country to be approved for the rigorous National Standards for Community Foundations and was re-accredited in 2020. It is the largest publicly-supported grant-making foundation in Washington County and cumulatively has more than $18 million in grants.