Last year, about a dozen Enumclaw High School students asked for help after they found themselves in the predicament of not being able to pay for a class, equipment for a class or test fees.
These are not terribly high expenses -- $30 here for a vocational class fee, $60 there for an AP exam fee -- but Assistant Principal Caspar van Haalen said school funding for needs like these are very limited, and students have been turned away in the past.
This year, thanks to a unique partnership between the high school and InvestED, formerly known as the Saul Haas Foundation that helps provide education funding statewide, those students could get the help they needed.
The organization will match dollar-for-dollar all donations the school receives to meet these funding needs on a continuous cycle. There will not be a lag period while the school waits for a yearly lump sum payment; InvestED will issue a matching check as soon as it receives documentation of a donation to the school, van Haalen said.
InvestED recently provided the school with $400 in funding after proper paperwork had been filed documenting the school's efforts to financially assist its students in the past, said van Haalen.
It's a modest amount but the funds make a difference. “In our state, there are more than 19,000 students who drop out each year, and many more ‘opt out’ and fail to reach their potential because they lack the resources to participate fully in school,” said Julie Davis, InvestED’s executive director. “Their requests are often small – a class or college exam fee or supplies for an art or music class, for example – but the impact is enormous.”
Currently Enumclaw High School grants requests for financial needs academic in nature only, though students have sought help for everything from paying for sports fees to buying prom dresses. "We'd like to go there but we can't because we'd surpass the essential academic needs," van Haalen said. "We know it's important to a student's experience in high school. That in itself can lead to them buying more into their education in a more positive way. Everyone can see those connections."
An Equitable Education Experience
van Haalen is in his second year of overseeing this funding program and has reorganized the process through which students request help to being one that is well-documented in order to benefit from InvestED matching funding. Students now initially complete a form before sitting down with van Haalen along with two other staff members for an interview about the request.
Half the people who had such funding needs are embarassed to come forward, so the interview process is more a converation - nothing intimidating, he said. "The conversation needs to take place," he said. "They need to feel comfortable asking. None of us want to pry into personal affairs but sometimes it leads to referring to services or just brainstorming ideas to get assistance elsewhere. I want them to feel comfortable talking about a direct need that school might be able to help with."
van Haalen and staff then sit down and thoroughly assess each request based on a combination of need and validity. For example, if a student had just paid for an expensive edition of the school yearbook but is later asking for help paying a $30 fee for a class, a conversation about financial priorities might ensue. "They usually leave my office knowing a little more than before and feeling a little better," he said.
For van Haalen, the work he puts in to completing the documentation for InvestED and the time he puts in to meeting with the students is all part of his desire to see the school be able to treat all students the same. "If we're taking inclusion and teaching every kid equitably, it should not be a matter of some parents being able to pay for everything while other kids are not able to take the classes that might be good for them," he said. This program "helps to instill the sense of the school doing what the school can do to be equitable while not spending irresponsibly. InvestED is very philanthropic and to be associated with them is a good thing."
Of the school's current funding, some of the areas that van Haalen said the assistance has made the biggest impact include the vocational program. In many schools where budgets are tight, the vocational programs are the first to go. Enumclaw High School's program, including its popular glassworks class, remains intact though costs are now passed on to the students for things like equipment, and they wind up costing more than an English class, he said.
Get the Matches Ignited
As requests for help continue to come in, van Haalen is taking the InvestED matching program to the community. This isn't a one-time fundraising effort and he hopes to build a sustainable network of support for the students. "I'm not doing a car wash - this is more structural than that," he said. "I know a lot of people are asking a lot, but when you see where the money goes to, you can't get to a student more directly than that."
If you'd like to help Enumclaw High School administrators meet more of the funding requests they're getting from students - van Haalen said they currently have about 20 requests in and more are expected when the spring semester starts - you can make a donation in the name of 'Enumclaw High School' through the InvestED website www.investED.org or send a gift designated to the school to InvestED, 911 8th Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98109.
Questions may be directed to Caspar van Haalen, Assistant Principal, at Enumclaw High School, (360) 802-7701 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to InvestED at (206) 352-1199.