Comeau fund helps neediest students

As the school year comes to an end many of us reflect upon the swift passage of time in our children's lives and hope that we are doing the very best to ensure a positive, enriching, learning environment for our children. The end of this school year also marks the retirement of Carol Comeau after 12 years as superintendent and 38 years of service in Anchorage schools. Carol's dedication to the young people in Anchorage has been a constant. She has worked to ensure that each student, regardless of his or her means, has the opportunity to reach his or her fullest potential. A new endowment fund established with the Anchorage Schools Foundation is designed to do just that for the thousands of kids in local schools who face their own challenges.

The new fund is appropriately named the Carol Comeau Endowment Fund. This fund will continue the work of the Anchorage Schools Foundation Fund at the Alaska Community Foundation by providing two types of grants to teachers, administrators and other school staff members.

The first type is to support innovative projects proposed by teachers for which district funding is not available. These grants, while small in terms of dollars, have provided a much richer educational experience for many children in Anchorage during ASF's four years of existence. In 2011, for example, a grant of just $447 provided 16 ukuleles and sheet music for a music teacher at Creekside Park Elementary School, where 15 percent of the student body is of South Pacific heritage, so she could teach chording and harmony to students in a culturally relevant way.

The second type of grant-making is that which is particularly close to Comeau's heart, emergency funding for students in need. This fund provides food, personal supplies, winter clothing and other essentials to students at six pilot schools in Anchorage. In 2010, this included a 50-pound bag of rice for one school where students were coming to class hungry on a regular basis. A rice cooker and a supply of rice meant there was always some food available for hungry students, allowing them to focus on learning, not their hunger.

The emergency fund has provided items for students that most of us take for granted: food for children that come to school hungry, shoes, eyeglasses, personal care items, bus tokens so that students can participate in after school sports or take the bus to take the SATs on a Saturday morning. Even items as simple as a diary for a middle school student who was going through a difficult time, providing an outlet for the tangled emotions that were affecting her schoolwork. Although these items may seem small, they can make a huge impact on struggling children in our community. Providing these items for the children of our community is exactly the kind of work that will be done in Carol's name.

Grants are made to teachers and other school staff members who are closest to students and understand the specific needs of their student populations. The level of need in our city is great. I am not sure that most of the residents of Anchorage realize how many children in our community face tremendous challenges.

Donating to the Carol Comeau Endowment Fund is a wonderful way to honor Carol's many years of dedication to the young people of our community and help our neediest students get the start they need in school and in life.

Karin Wanamaker is chair of the Anchorage Schools Foundation.