By Chris Wichmann, M&L Senior Editor; Photos courtesy of Educational Foundations and Brian Park
Naperville is the fourth largest city in Illinois with about 27,000 students in District 204 and about 16,000 students in District 203. A lot of kids and a lot of need! The Indian Prairie Educational Foundation (District 204) and the Naperville Education Foundation (District 203) both seek to make a difference in the lives of students by funding various programs that fall outside the school districts’ budgets. At the individual school level, most schools have a parent-teacher association (PTA), referred to as the Home & School Association in District 203, which focuses on community building and raising funds for special projects. As you’ll read below, these groups enrich the experiences of students while bringing in vital funding.
Indian Prairie Educational Foundation
The Indian Prairie Educational Foundation was established in 1988 to support the fine arts programs, help build a top-tier music program, and honor the top performing students and teachers. Since then, its mission has evolved to include district funding for STEM classes, an annual science fair, and robotics clubs. The Foundation also provides significant support for students’ health and well-being. These programs include “Young Hearts for Life,” which provides free cardiac screenings to all high school students; “Back on Track” counseling in partnership with 360 Youth Services for economically disadvantaged middle and high school students who are experiencing significant stress and struggling socially or academically; and the Kid Essentials Fund, which assists with immediate needs and basic necessities for the district’s homeless and low-income students.
Trudie Ranson, PhD, (pictured below left, center) has been the executive director of the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation (IPEF) since July 2022. She shared, “I have the best job in the world: helping students and teachers.” Prior to this role, she was a member of the foundation’s executive board. Trudie is the mother of a current high school student and a 2022 graduate of District 204. “There are a lot of volunteers behind the scenes associated with the foundation helping the students to excel and remove barriers to education,” Trudie said. “Our three biggest events are the Fine Arts Festival, our Team IPEF charity runners who participate in the Naperville Half Marathon and 5K race, and the annual Inspire Fine Arts Gala. But volunteers are also involved at events like the biennial cardiac screenings, robotics tournaments, and especially the Fine Arts Festival, the biggest event in the district.”
Held each May on all three high school campuses simultaneously, the Fine Arts Festival is a free event for the community featuring 12,000 pieces of pre-K to 12th grade artwork representing students from all 33 district schools. There are over 80 musical performances with 9,000 mixed-age student musicians. The Inspire Fine Arts Gala is put on annually to raise funds for the Fine Arts Festival. This year’s Gala is March 10th at Loft 28 West in Aurora and will feature a silent auction, sips and bites, high school musicians, and a student art gallery.
Naperville Education Foundation
Established in 1992, the Naperville Education Foundation (NEF) seeks to ensure that every student in the district has the opportunity to thrive. The foundation provides educational enrichment programming through before- and after-school programming and administers 25 different scholarships and grants ranging from $500 to $7,000 for graduating seniors. Awards are given in the categories of diversity and inclusion, fine arts, physical education, social emotional learning, STEM, and literacy. In addition, NEF funds express grants up to $1,000 to provide a quick and easy way for the foundation to make staff members’ and students’ great ideas a reality in the current school year.
Kelly Llewellyn (pictured above, far left), an NEF board member, district 203 parent, and district 203 alum shared, “NEF has so many puzzle pieces, and it does such a good job finding the piece that will make a difference for a single student or a whole school. For individual students, NEF supports those in need when the school social worker may identify a service or need that is not part of the normal services of the school district.” A special program NEF supports includes Kid Booster Anonymous, which provides timely support to an at-risk student such as a dental visit or a psychiatric visit. RISE is a newer program that provides for students with significant mental health or behavioral health needs. Its two main components are providing on-site mental health services and supporting a community, wraparound process that provides individualized services to families in need within the district.
On March 22nd, NEF will host its 30th annual Building a Passion Breakfast, one of the foundation’s largest fundraisers. During the event, NEF celebrates its business partners, donors, schools, and grant recipients. Kelly said, “One year, a grant recipient sang for us; his singing brought tears to our eyes. This Naperville North student had wanted to be in the show choir but couldn’t afford the $1,000 fee. NEF helped pay the fee, and he shared its beautiful impact for everyone in the audience.”
PTAs and Home & School Associations
Dining out days, ice cream socials, color runs, winter bake sales, spring flower sales, and spiritwear sales are examples of activities and fundraisers organized by the schools’ parent groups. Catey Genc, President of the Indian Prairie Parents Council, said, “Color runs are huge—they build a great sense of community because the whole family can participate, and they can raise a lot of money! Depending on the school, $10,000 to $25,000 can be raised from a color run.” Catey said the PTAs are working even harder to bring a sense of community back to the schools post-COVID.
The funds raised are used to enrich the experiences of students and teachers at their schools. Gracia Livie, President of Kingsley Elementary’s Home & School Association, shared examples: “Each year, Kingsley’s Home & School provides new kindergartener t-shirts for all entering kindergarteners and t-shirts for the fifth graders at their annual Outdoor Education field trip. Funding also goes toward school assemblies, classroom parties, staff appreciation lunches, and grants up to $100 for teachers to supplement their classrooms. These activities bring a lot of parental involvement. Each year, over 100 parents volunteer in one way or another.”
For more information on supporting Naperville schools and students see the following:
Indian Prairie Educational Foundation: https://ipef204.org/
Naperville Education Foundation:
Indian Prairie Parents’ Council:
District 203 Home & School Associations: