2008-05-01 / News

Jamestown Education Foundation enriches students' lives

By Stephanie Heelan Cotsonas

Two of Duval Slingluff's children are having a great time learning a new language thanks to the Spanish after-school program sponsored by the Jamestown Education Foundation (JEF).

"They both enjoyed it and I was thrilled because I think languages should be started early and be a part of curriculum. I knew they would be taking Spanish starting in sixth grade, but I wanted them to get a jump-start," Slingluff said.

JEF is a private, nonprofit corporation that partners with the Jamestown schools and community organizations. Their mission is to support innovative programs that inspire young minds, encourage academic excellence and promote healthy lifestyles.

President Mary Hall Keen is in her third term and was one of the founding members of the JEF. "We really strive to be there for all the kids on the island and we are working hard to fill the need for kids' activities in the after school hours. We were formed to address the fact that there were so many kids on the island that did not have stuff to do and the whole issue of teen boredom was coming to a head," Keen said.

In the few short years since inception, the JEF has generated a long list of accomplishments including an after-school program in collaboration with the Jamestown School Department, which serves 75 percent of the school population. Offerings have included golf, Spanish, string ensemble, robotics, and drama classes. New programs include knitting, digital photography, hip-hop dance, double-dutch jump roping, and a hot air balloon experiment.

Two of Duval Slingluff's children participated in the afterschool Spanish program at the Melrose School.

JEF created a new instrument library at the Lawn School and recently provided a much-needed xylophone for the percussion students. The goal was to provide new and refurbished instruments and enable all students the opportunity to play in the school band. They are currently seeking donations for the purchase of a new bass drum for the school band.

The foundation also collaborates with the Jamestown Recreation Department to offer the annual Save the Bay summer camp, and supports various cultural events as well as an expressive arts summer camp. They have supported the Teen Center, the Conanicut Island Raptor Project and the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study. JEF is involved with the Osprey project and donations are currently being

sought for several new osprey poles so that the returning birds will find a place to nest in Jamestown.

According to Anne Livingston, treasurer of the JEF, "Programs will evolve where the need is and they are looking for more community and school collaboration. For example, we don't get the word out to the homeschooled and private schooled kids as well as we'd like to."

Keen added, "The JEF is unlike most education foundations across the country in that we are not specifically linked to the local public school. Our community is relatively small and the actual number of students is not that great, so it really behooves us to try to make sure we have things available to all the kids. It is tricky because our afterschool programs start right after school and not all private school kids can get here right then."

The JEF sponsored programs are free or very low cost to make it accessible to all the kids, according to Keen. All of the JEF's revenue is spent on education programs and no one is turned away because of financial need.

JEF is funded almost entirely through private donations, grant money and offers grants, which are generally no more than $1,000, to provide educational and cultural enrichment programs.

When developing new programs, "We figure out what the need is. We try to understand what will work and what fits in Jamestown and just do it," Livingston said,

Keen said the school has been great in supporting the after school programming. "We try to be a way to connect lots of different organizations in the community, so it is not just the school but the recreation department, the senior center, and the community theater."

"There are so many people who have so much expertise or just interesting things to share with the kids. We want to tap into all the resources on this island, including the senior center. There are retir- ees who have a fabulous level of expertise," Keen said.

Each year since inception, JEF has hosted at least one major fundraising event. Planning is underway for the annual event this summer.

JEF continues to look for support from members of the community as they refine existing programs and sponsor new ones. The annual budget is small, but the need for extra-curricular programming for students in Jamestown continues.

The group also recently launched their new Web site. Visit www.jamestowneducationfoundation. org for more information on the foundation or becoming a member.

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