How the Bellevue Schools Foundation Bridges Gaps in Education Programs
Lynn Juniel recounts the time she visited a Bellevue kindergarten where a student was busy tinkering with a robot. But this was no ordinary 5-year-old play.
“I asked a child what they were doing, and they said, ‘I’m telling my robot what to do with all these patterns, and that makes a sequence which is an algorithm,’” Lynn says.
This is programming at the primary school level, one of many programs the Bellevue Schools Foundation helps to fund. While a kindergarten computer science curriculum may make sense for a tech hub like Bellevue, Lynn says they’re not trying to make coders per se, but critical thinkers.
How this particular program came to be is how many of the resources come to fruition by the Bellevue Schools Foundation: community involvement and innovation.
The Bellevue Schools Foundation is a community-based and community-supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1979 that raises funds to implement programs and resources to provide the best education possible for every child in Bellevue. Lynn has served as the foundation’s executive director for about two years and has been a part of the Eastside’s education system for more than 10 years working for the Issaquah Schools Foundation previously.
Elaina Herber can attest to the community involvement piece of what the foundation sets out to do and she is involved in supporting multiple aspects of the foundation’s work. She is a not only a Bellevue parent of two kids, she is also a Bellevue business owner and the newest foundation trustee.
“There is much that is special about Bellevue schools. Our families are really involved and because of that, many alumni choose to move back here to raise their children. We have access to the best teachers and we push STEM at the preschool level,” Elaina says. “We prioritize green-lighting amazing programs that are incubators to provide children with a true head start.”
This year the foundation is investing $1 million into Transforming Education and Supporting Students programs. For programs that transform education, $515,000 is invested into programs like the K-12 Computer Science Initiative; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) P-5 Initiative; Social Emotional Learning (SEL); Arts, Enrichment & Innovation Grants; and Music Enrichment. The rest of the $1 million budget will go to Supporting Students programs like Early Learning, a tuition-free preschool program for low-income families; Project READiness Early Literacy Intervention, a program that helps students at high-poverty schools in Bellevue reach literacy benchmarks that pave the way for them to read to learn by third grade’ and programs that support teachers’ professional development.
“Programs like these don’t exist in a lot of places anymore because of budget,” Elaina says. “The fact that we’re doing it for every student is huge. Education is not ‘have’ and ‘have-not.’ We give it to all children in the Bellevue School District. It’s not ‘My tax dollar is going to decide what kind of education my child gets.’”
Reaching every child is important, as not every family in Bellevue has the income that its ZIP code may suggest.
“People see Bellevue as an affluent community, but there are pockets of poverty,” Lynn says. “Nearly one in five students in the Bellevue school district are eligible for free or reduced lunches, and more than 200 students are homeless.”
The key in continuous improvements to educational resources is innovation, Lynn says.
“Our trustees are driven and approach our work with a ‘what’s next?’ curiosity. What else can we do to remove barriers to student success?” she says. “How can we strengthen our partnerships and with whom can we collaborate to continually elevate education from basic to best.”
Improving educational resources for Bellevue students is a continuous process that needs the voices and efforts of the community. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Bellevue Schools Foundation, visit BellevueSchoolsFoundation.org.