This summer, a new charitable non-profit launched with the goal of helping Ferndale students in need of additional support by removing fees, offering scholarships, and paying for necessary materials. The Ferndale Public Schools Foundation’s mission is “Removing financial barriers so students can soar,” and they are already working with local donors to make that a reality.
“We want to ignite education and support kids,” said Tracy Diehl, the executive director of the foundation. “If kids don’t have the basics to go to school, they’re not going to be in the right environment to learn.”
The foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is completely separate from Ferndale School District. Diehl and the foundation’s board of directors are all volunteers. Anya Milton, president of the board and the parent of Ferndale students, said the foundation will work in partnership with Ferndale School District.
“We believe wholeheartedly in the mission of the school district, and we have our own separate mission,” she said.
Many school districts in Washington – from large districts like Bellingham and Everett to smaller districts like Cle Elum and Arlington – have a separate non-profit foundation to support student needs and provide scholarships.
Milton said that as Ferndale grows and changes, the community has more financial need, but also more people who can offer assistance. According to state data, about 58% of students in Ferndale School District came from low-income households last school year.
“The makeup of our community is changing, and we need to change to meet those needs,” Milton said.
One of the unique programs the foundation will offer are You Belong Cards. When a teacher or school staff member notices one of their students needs something – school supplies, a coat, food, etc. – they can fill out an application on the foundation’s website. From there, the foundation will figure out the cost of those items and give the teacher a pre-loaded gift card to purchase them.
The You Belong Cards will not only help students in need, but also alleviate a financial burden on school staff, Milton said.
“Teachers are often emotionally invested in their students, and often feel the need to spend their own money to ensure students have access to items and opportunities,” she said. “We want to remove that, so the onus isn’t on the teachers.”
The Foundation also seeks to cover additional student costs not covered by schools, such as fees for taking Advanced Placement tests or Associated Student Body cards. And they also want to award scholarships for local students to continue their education after high school.
“No matter what their trajectory is, whether it’s trade school or a four-year college, we want to make sure students have every opportunity possible,” Milton said.
Having things like student fees and extra supplies covered via donations helps alleviate the financial burden on both the school district and local residents, Milton said.
“The taxpayer can’t pay for everything, and the school district can’t pay for everything,” she said. “So how do we leverage our community donors – whether they’re individuals or companies – to advance our goals a little bit further?”
Milton and Diehl stressed that the new foundation will not interfere with the existing Golden Eagle Booster Club and local Parent Teacher Organizations. The foundation will not be buying school playgrounds or paying for high school extracurricular activities.
“We’re not going to overlap on anything they’re doing,” Diehl said. “They’re doing a great job, and we want to work together.”
The foundation board is made up of locals representing a variety of groups and companies, from RAM Construction to Bellingham Technical College to a Lummi tribal member. Many of the board members are parents of current Ferndale students, and one member is a student herself – FHS sophomore Harleen Malli.
Josh Linn is the father of a Cascadia first grader and an optimization manager for Phillips 66. He said he joined the foundation board because he greatly values public schools and wanted to support Ferndale School District.
“We’re really excited about the energy around the school district, and we’re really excited to contribute in any way we can through this new organization,” Linn said.
Linn said the primary way folks can donate to the foundation is through its website at www.ferndaleschoolsfoundation.org. The site will be up and running starting on the first day of school, August 30.
Superintendent Dr. Kristi Dominguez fully supports the new foundation. She said their contributions can pay for things that district dollars cannot.
“I’ve seen firsthand the power that a foundation can have in creating access for students,” Dominguez said. “When you partner with a foundation, you’re able to break down barriers and create a more equitable learning environment.”
Milton said the foundation is still seeking a couple more board members – in particular, those from first-generation families who first language may not be English. And she wants anyone curious or skeptical about the foundation to chat with a board member and find out more about how they can help.
“Come meet with us. Come talk to us,” Milton said. “Learn what we have to offer and learn how you can be part of a really positive wave for our students and for Ferndale.”