By Ken Levy
The Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE) has had an incredibly positive impact on public education in north Idaho through the success of innovative programs, according to Lauren Carlson of the Idaho Community Foundation.
Formed in 2002 by a group of citizens concerned about their schools in Bonner County, PAFE’s mission is to promote excellence in public education and community support for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. PAFE has evolved into a well-respected organization with a variety of programs to meet both the short- and long-term educational needs of the community, Carlson said.
Developing those programs has been relatively easy, according to Marcia Wilson, PAFE executive director.
“It’s been easy because so many people share the common dream of the success of children,” she said. “By engaging the community and parents in education, we’ve been able to empower teachers with equipment and materials to make a difference in the schools.”
PAFE’s competitive teacher grants program has awarded nearly $1 million to cover 340 unique classroom projects, ranging from microscopes and solar cars to poetry workshops, graphing calculators, tutoring programs, innovative computer technology, and musical instruments, said Carlson. Grants are awarded annually.
In the CORE (Consortium on Reading Excellence) reading program, every teacher in the district gets professional staff development to significantly improve reading, writing and language arts instruction and student achievement for grades K-12. The four-year strategic reading program met its goal in 2009, with 90 percent of all students reading at or above grade level.
The program is designed to retrain teachers to bring them up to the latest techniques in how to teach reading, Wilson said.
PAFE’s College and Career Guidance Center offers career planning, the college/technical school application process, financial aid and scholarships. Testing Day gives freshmen, sophomores and juniors tests to get ready for future college entrance exams. Collaborating with a school’s English department, all students participate in career research, goal setting and mock interviews. About 68 percent of graduating seniors were accepted at a college or technical school in 2009, representing a dramatic improvement in the program’s first year, according to Carlson.
Youngsters up to age five can participate in an early childhood literacy program. Introduced in 2008, the READY! for Kindergarten program gives parents the tools needed to help their children start school at age five.
PAFE’s $1.9 million endowment, raised since its inception in 2003, ensures large amounts of money are invested wisely. Ultimately this investment will become a source of perpetual funding in support of the Lake Pend Oreille School District.
The Idaho Community Foundation is a steward for PAFE’s endowment fund, according to Robert Hoover, ICF president and CEO.
“PAFE has an acute understanding of the benefits of an endowment and the positive impact it can have on an organization and community,” he said. “Since the fund was established in 2003, the organization has remained dedicated to its growth through various fundraising efforts. Over time, I have no doubt this endowment will become large enough to produce a healthy cash flow to meet the educational needs of the community.”
PAFE coordinates with Coldwater Creek for an annual golf tournament that attracts vendors from around the world and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. PAFE volunteers put on the Summer Sunset Gala, which helps to raise money to support annual teacher grants.
More than 40 community partners participate through financial or in-kind donations, or with manpower to ensure the success of fundraising events.
“PAFE believes the quality of schools is tied to the quality of the community,” said Hoover. “To that end, they have worked hard to establish strong relationships with some key local partners, including businesses, nonprofits, educational groups, governmental entities and many more. In everything they do, they are working toward creating a better community, one in which each person, regardless of their relationship to the school, believes in and strives for educational excellence.”
Thanks to PAFE’s programs, “the kids recognize they’re important,” Wilson said. “The stars align when everyone works together.”
Ken Levy is a writer and photographer residing in Driggs, Idaho.