South Summit Education Foundation’s inaugural year pays off
Students receive more than $39,000 in scholarships
South Summit High School’s graduating class will have the backing of an entire community as the students embark on the next step of their educational careers.
They are the beneficiaries of the first set of scholarships from the South Summit Education Foundation, which is wrapping up its inaugural school year after forming in March of 2016. According to Director Jodi Jones, the foundation was set to dole out more than $39,000 to 42 students in the school’s 92-member graduating class during a ceremony set for Tuesday, May 16.
Jones said the awards banquet, which was also slated to celebrate the school’s Sterling Scholars, is the culmination of a lot of hard work from everyone involved with the foundation. The hope is that this year’s students are the first of thousands who will benefit as the foundation grows alongside the district in the coming years.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s awesome to see something grow from just an idea in someone’s head to fruition. We’re giving scholarships to over half of the graduating senior class. So that’s going to be awesome to see them all up on the stage. It’s exciting to see they’ve got a good start on their post-high school education.”
Discussions about starting the foundation, which had long been a goal of Superintendent Shad Sorenson, began in 2015, Jones said. But it wasn’t until last fall that the organization got off the ground in earnest. The community has welcomed the idea since, with both residents and alumni offering their support. Just last week, in fact, former students raised nearly $2,000 in a two-evening telethon.
Jones said the foundation aims to build the type of hype for academics that the school’s athletic program receives every year. That can be rare in small towns where Friday-night football represents a community-wide celebration, but the outpouring of enthusiasm so far has Jones optimistic.
“They’ve embraced it,” she said. “It’s very exciting to see the support. A lot of people, even if they don’t have kids in the school, they went to the school or they know neighbors who do. So everyone is involved and excited to give. They’re excited to see we’re recognizing the students and that we’re giving them an opportunity to pursue education beyond high school.”
The foundation organized its scholarship program so every senior could participate, Jones said. The money was allotted based on how many outside scholarships students had sought; students who applied for five scholarships earned $500, with the amount increasing up to $1,000 for 10 applications. That way, the students were encouraged to create opportunities to receive even more financial aid than what the foundation could provide.
“That’s a lot of work,” she said. “The students are putting in a lot of time to fill out a lot of scholarship applications. The foundation wanted to reward them and incentivize them to keep doing that and to try to get as much of their college education paid for as they could.”
Even more important than the money, though, is the message the scholarships send to the students as they leave Kamas and begin the next step of their lives, Jones said.
“It’s emotionally exciting for them, and it’s powerful for us to say to them, ‘We believe in you. We’re going to give you this money because we know you can do it,’” she said. “I think that boosts self-esteem and confidence and helps them as they move into the future.”
Sorenson, who identified starting an education foundation as a priority when he applied for the superintendent position in 2014, said the work of the organization so far has been a “dream come true.” The foundation will hopefully help make post-secondary education a reality for more South Summit students for years to come, building on other efforts that already existed within the district.
“It’s actually moved faster than I ever anticipated,” he said. “I don’t know about other foundations, but I certainly know that, for a small, rural foundation to be pulling off the type of awards that we are giving to our students, it is very exciting.”
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The South Summit Board of Education voted 4-1 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot asking for $87 million to build a new high school.