Schools foundation reviews scholarships


Last updated 3/5/2024 at 9:31am

It’s scholarship season, and a local school-and-student support system is preparing high school seniors for their next academic steps toward promising professional careers.

March signals scholarship application review time for the Sisters Schools Foundation (SSF), which will distribute two $1,000 scholarships, an annual endeavor for the nonprofit established in response to financial challenges faced by public schools.

SSF is undergoing a transformation with the induction of three new board members.

“We really wanted to have some younger representation because we knew that there was a whole section of families who hadn’t really known about us,” said SSF Vice President Treasure Lewis.

Local volunteer parents Karissa Bilderback, Haley Ellison, and Kay Grady recently joined as board members.

“I’m so excited to be able to help select the recipients of our two foundation scholarships this year,” said Bilderback. “Knowing that these funds will help them in their future endeavors is so rewarding. I love that our community comes together to provide for these students each year.”

One of the nonprofit’s core functions is to give teachers and students what they need to succeed.

“We have a simple application process for funding. Teachers fill out a form; principals review and prioritize requests, then send them to us. The funding goes directly to teachers,” said Lewis.

SSF funds programs such as the fourth-grade Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB) and Oregon Trail Field Trip. The foundation also helps teachers procure materials unfunded by the district.

Recipients underscore SSF’s invaluable role in enhancing educational opportunities. Katie Parsons, a fourth-grade teacher at Sisters Elementary, emphasized the significance of the foundation’s contribution to the field trip, an annual highlight for students.

“It’s amazing,” Parsons remarked. “The organization has helped us every year for the past 15 years. We receive significant funding from them because we’ve needed more money to pull off this trip, and they’ve been very gracious in funding it every year.”

Parsons requested and received $2,000 from SSF to help cover transportation, food, and other expenses for the overnighter to Laurel Hill on Mount Hood, Fort Vancouver, and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City, scheduled for May 23-24.

Sisters Middle School teacher and advisor Jeff Schiedler highlighted support for the Outlaw-run student store, part of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program encouraging life skills and social, emotional, and mental health among students.

”Teachers have Outlaw Bucks, which they hand out for various positive behaviors among students, and then students spend those bucks at the student store,” Schiedler explained. “The cool thing that the students do within the leadership program is make the Outlaw gear in the store. We have a vinyl-cutting machine and a heat press. The students design and make shirts and sweatshirts. We have pencils, notebooks, water bottles, and things like that.”

Schiedler said the foundation has never denied his requests for the PBIS program.

“Each year, I’ve asked for a little bit more. This year, they struggled in their overall fund, I think, so they weren’t able to give me all that I requested, but that was alright. They still gave plenty,” said Schiedler, who teaches the leadership group, math, STEM, and is the yearbook coordinator.

At Sisters High, teacher Bethany Gunnarson praised SSF support of the art department.

“Anytime we apply for funds that will enhance our program – buying materials and tools that are essential for our curriculum – they’ve always accepted,” said Gunnarson. “It’s really cool to know they’re not a long shot; we don’t have to jump through hoops to be able to get funding.”

Most recently, she received $7,700 to order iPads for digital illustration, something the school budget did not cover.

“We had won a nationwide design contest, the Vans Custom Culture competition, and the students got within the Top 5,” Gunnarson said proudly. They brought home a $15,000 prize, and used it to purchase 12 art-program-loaded iPads, however, “there is no class size that is 12.”

“Trying to teach something and share technology is really hard, so (SSF) was able to kind of supplement that and help us get six more iPads. That was a huge expense,” Gunnarson said.

The momentum empowered students to explore digital artistry and gave rise to the school’s first graphic design class.

“The need, in my view, was more access to current technologies and programs to help students pursue design as a career, or as part of their jobs,” said Gunnarson. “We appreciate that (SSF) takes the time to fundraise and support the classroom, because there are a lot of needs that otherwise wouldn’t be met.”

SSF has supported Sisters public schools and teachers for more than 27 years.

“A group of parents and people in the community wanted to see the schools continue to have the extracurricular and academic programs that make Sisters special,” said Lewis. “They started the Starry Nights concert series in 1997 to raise money that would go directly to teachers and schools, to be used as they wanted or needed.”

Beyond financial contributions, the organization fosters a sense of community. Starry Nights accomplished that goal for 20+ years, drumming up more than $1.3 million in donations. However, like many organizations, SSF faced struggles during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting a need for revitalization.

“Our last Starry Nights concert was in 2019, right before Covid. Afterward, we couldn’t have those kinds of events. Last year, there was no Starry Nights concert. That’s not due to Covid; that’s dependent on the Starry Nights committee,” which leaned on personal connections and professional relationships in the music industry to bring in big-name acts at no charge.

“Managers and production companies aren’t as willing to do that anymore,” Lewis lamented. “We can’t always have a Starry Nights concert. It’s been the main type of fundraising in the past, but mostly because of changes in the music industry, we are looking at other fundraising.”

The new board is working to establish a new event that will be meaningful and bring value to the community.

“We are being intentional with our time to host an event which makes a big impact,” said new board member Ellison. “We are in deep discussion to bring back a fun and engaging community event which supports the growth and continuation of the foundation services and offerings!’”

In the meantime, SSF is encouraging direct donations. To donate to the SSF general fund, a specific program or specific school, visit or send a check to Sisters Schools Foundation, PO Box 2155, Sisters, OR 97759.


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