Running success: Westfield Education Foundation provides support for students, teachers

  • CIW-COVER-0308-URR3 (1)
    Jan Skinner, executive director of the Westfield Education Foundation, organizes the Underground Railroad Run each year. (Photo by Anna Skinner)
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    The runners will start at 9 a.m. March 19, with the walkers beginning at 9:30 a.m. The run and walk will begin and end at the Riverview Health Stadium this year. (Submitted photo)
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    Whitney Osborne, of Wildtree Herbs, was one of the health fair vendors at the Underground Railroad Run in 2015. (Submitted photo)
  • Underground Map

By Mark Ambrogi

Jan Skinner knows the public is well versed on the constant escalating costs of college. The Westfield Education Foundation is doing its part to aid Westfield High School students.

“The more funds we raise, the more funds we can give away to the students trying to achieve their college dreams,” said Skinner, who has been the WEF executive director for 13 years.

The major fundraiser for 18 years has been the Underground Railroad Run, which is set for March 19. There is a 5K run, 3K walk and a health fair. Skinner said the run, on average, has raised more than $20,000 each year for the foundation.

“We get hundreds and hundreds of runners and walkers,” Skinner said. “The new thing that is exciting this year is we are actually going to have the start and finish line on the Riverview Health Stadium track.”

The race then travels through downtown Westfield, where Underground Railroad housing has been documented.

Over the past 30 years, Skinner said WEF has awarded $950,000 in college scholarships.

“By the time we get through this spring giving away scholarships, we’ll be knocking at the door of one million dollars,” she said. “We attribute that to all these families that come out to support us.”

In addition to helping raise money for scholarships for high school seniors, the foundation also provides teacher grants each fall.

“We want innovative applications,” Skinner said. “We’re looking for the out-of-the-box ideas but they just can’t pay for it out of their own pocket. We’re here to help them provide learning opportunities that add to the excellence of education for Westfield Washington School students.”

The grants are for teacher at any grade level, up to $1,000. Skinner said a parent-volunteer group conducts a blind review of the grant applications.

“The board of directors of the foundation makes the final determination, but we really value what those parent volunteers do,” she said. “They put a lot of thought into it. Then we reward whatever amount we can.”

During the run, there is a random drawing where 25 seniors will receive $350 scholarships.

“That could help toward books or anything,” said Skinner, adding applications aren’t necessary for the drawing, but if a senior registers for the Underground Railroad walk or run, they get their name placed in the drawing four additional times.

The health fair is another popular feature, Skinner said.

“It’s a great opportunity for community members to see what is available,” she said. “We try to bring in lots of interesting people.”

The nine Westfield schools have a friendly competition. The school with the highest percentage of registrations wins a $500 teaching grant for its physical education department, as well as a trophy to be displayed at the school for the year until the next run. Oak Trace Elementary School had the highest percentage of registration in 2015.

Teacher grant pays off for students

Westfield High School music teacher Jeffrey McLaughlin learned how beneficial a WEF grant can be this school year. McLaughlin used his $1,000 grant to have steel pan educator David Chase visit his class. Chase is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, where the steel pan originated.

Chase and his steel pan group performed in concert following the first visit in February. Chase will also visit in April and May. Chase is the music director at Shepherd Community Center, an outreach center on east side of the Indianapolis. Following the concert, McLaughlin’s class performed and volunteered reading with young children at Shepherd.

“The partnership with David and Shepherd was very fun and rewarding,” McLaughlin said. “The students learned more about poverty in the poorest section of Indianapolis. We learned how Shepherd addresses this issue holistically to help meet physical, spiritual, emotional and financial needs of the community. Steel pan is one vehicle used to get kids involved in music.”

Underground Railroad Run

March 19 Race Day schedule: Registration and T-shirt pickup from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. The 5K run starts at 9 a.m. The 3K walk starts at 9:30 a.m. The health fair booths are open from 8 to 10:30 a.m.

Registration: To register, visit tuxbro.com, or call 733-3300. Registration recommended by March 11 but accepted on race day. The price for the run and walk will increase March 18 and 19.