- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Bodine Elementary School Principal Nikki Coshow had to leave for a few minutes Monday to pick up trees and shrubs from a nearby nursery, a philanthropic gift to beautify the school.

Her school has an abundance of blessings, she said, citing several examples of donations in addition to the $1,500 in landscaping from K&K; Nursery. For example, her next errand this week is to pick up $1,000 in golf clubs at the Lake Hefner Golf Club, a gift from Kathleen Black, a retired education professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, to support Bodine’s gym classes.

The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1OZ7sCD ) reports that the school also received a $25,000 grant from Devon Energy Corp. for weekend science field trips and lab studies for the next three years. The manager of a nearby Wal-Mart store promised to provide free meals for field trips. Frontier State Bank donated coats. School uniforms are provided by Bryant Avenue Baptist Church.

Nearby Metro Technology Center has joined the effort, giving an hour of welding instruction for sixth-graders each week. Next week, Metro Tech is going to teach culinary arts to fifth-graders. Another donor is building a bridge over the creek separating the schools, she said.

And by the end of the year, the school’s open-roof central courtyard will be covered with a commercial-quality awning so students can play during inclement weather, another donor gift to the low-income neighborhood school.

“I can’t write thank-you notes quickly enough,” Coshow said. “We have been very fortunate to receive so much support from our community. It’s made a huge difference to our students.”

Deisy Escalera, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Public Schools District, said many schools like Bodine have attracted community partners. Sometimes smaller businesses invest as much as their larger corporate peers. Escalera said it’s been difficult to track the financial value of such corporate gifts, but the district recently installed new software to assign dollars to in-kind donations on a more standard basis. Cox Communications, for example, offers significantly discounted Internet service to homes that need the help.

“When you think about this community, which has done so many great things, you realize you can help make a big difference by helping our kids be competitive,” Cox Communications Regional Vice President Percy Kirk said. “I can’t stress enough how important education has been to this company.”

Sonic spokesman Jason Acock said the drive-in restaurant company manages its philanthropic giving through DonorsChoose.org, a website dedicated to highlighting education projects in need of funding. Although Sonic typically urges its customers to vote for their preferred project via the Limeades for Learning campaign, last semester the company funded all of the teacher projects submitted by OKCPS, the state’s largest school district, in September. The amount donated was $44,000 over 78 total projects benefiting 27 schools.

Mary Mélon, president of the nonprofit Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, cited several examples of corporate school supporters, including American Fidelity, Verizon, Boeing, Sonic, Devon and Chesapeake. Most provide funding of some sort; many urge their employees to adopt facilities improvement projects or tutor programs.

“Volunteerism is just as vital as money,” she said. “Under the circumstances of education funding being cut at the state level, the ongoing teacher shortage, and student spending at the lowest in the nation, the work of the foundation and our community partners is as important as it has ever been.”

Coshow said corporate donations don’t actually fill funding gaps in the school district’s budget for instruction; they provide additional opportunities for children who need a little more help. Many of the students’ families leave the area again nearly as soon as they’ve enrolled; turnover is high, she said, and 100 percent of the students receive free and reduced-cost lunches. The school can’t help its children unless it has an anchor of community support.

The end result is a public school with enough enthusiasm to put a private school to shame - the student honor choir is asked to sing at board meetings and other special events, for example. A high level of corporate philanthropy has also helped recruit good teachers who feel valued, she said.

“It’s helped raise the bar to attract high-quality people,” Coshow said. “This is a school where we all love to come to work every day.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com

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