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Bay Area Program : Students Get Benefits of Firms’ Aid

Associated Press

The idea of corporate support for public schools is nothing new in the Bay Area, where a program encouraging corporate involvement began in 1979 and has become a model for similar projects around the country.

The effort got under way after a state report showed that many districts were struggling along without help from their communities. A group of concerned citizens reacted by establishing the San Francisco Educational Fund.

“We’re here to make the links between the private sector and the schools,” said Andrew Bundy, director of development and spokesman for the fund.

‘Cannot Function in Isolation’

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Bundy stressed that corporate funds are not meant to supplant public funds for education. “The reason we are here is that schools cannot function in isolation,” he said.

Although corporate support for the San Francisco schools is enthusiastic, it makes up only 17% of the revenues for the San Francisco Education Fund, and the fund provides only 0.5% of the total school budget.

The fund works in a number of ways, including the award of cash grants of $1,000 and up to teachers, parents or administrators with ideas on how to improve the educational process.

Corporations also are encouraged to get involved directly with the schools, a process business leaders say improves their image while helping the community.

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For example, Piedmont Airlines recently offered 20 Bay Area students--10 from San Francisco and 10 from Oakland--a chance to study in North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington.

All-Expense-Paid Trips

According to Felix Duag, spokesman for the San Francisco Unified School District, the airline organized an essay contest and the best writers won the all-expense-paid trips.

“There are also corporations that are involved in partnerships with particular schools--what’s commonly called an adopt-a-school approach,” said Bundy, noting McKesson Corp.'s adoption of Alamo Park High School, an alternative school with 175 to 200 students.

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Madge P. Winston, public relations manager for McKesson, called the 4-year-old partnership with Alamo “an everybody-wins situation.”

The company set up a job-training program and offered summer work to Alamo’s mostly low-income student body. It also offers rewards for job or learning achievements in a learning-exchange program.

After students get job training, they are eligible for work experience, where they work two hours a day, five days a week, and receive a monthly stipend.

‘Contributing to Society’

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“The employees who work with those students are all volunteers, so those employees feel like they’re contributing to society,” Winston said. The workers also “feel good” about McKesson, which in turn gets a chance “to hire the very best” of the students, she said.

The learning-exchange program provides such rewards as record albums or tickets to the ballet in exchange for improved grades and other achievements. “We want them to learn there really is no free lunch,” Winston said.


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