Graduation (copy)

The Foundation for Madison's Public Schools is launching a new alumni network and advocacy organization.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the financial and social/emotional well-being of students and teachers, new alumni and advocacy initiatives are bridging some of those gaps, the Madison Metropolitan School District announced at a press conference Wednesday.

The Friends and Alumni Network, which is grant-funded, will offer opportunities for alumni and community members to connect through the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools. It has already provided $5,000 across the district’s six high schools to support graduation in “thoughtful and creative ways,” said Kari Mueller, the foundation’s associate director of alumni engagement.

“This year’s graduating seniors are facing an increasingly unclear future as they enter alumnihood,” Mueller said. “As such, we’re eager to welcome them as early members of this new community of fellow alumni from around the world and to help them make the educational and career connections that they’ll surely need to succeed in these times.”

The foundation launched a community survey to about 24,000 people to gauge potential ways of engaging alumni, Mueller added. It hopes to have results in June.

Mo Cheeks, a member of the advocacy committee, introduced Schools Make Madison Advocacy, a new nonprofit organization that will make up the foundation’s advocacy arm.

Cheeks addressed long-declining state funding for K-12 education. Though the foundation has continued to strengthen its focus since adding advocacy to its mission statement in 2015, the recent pandemic has “highlighted the racial and economic inequalities across our countries and right here in our community,” Cheeks said.

It has “likewise highlighted the opportunities that exist to continue strengthening our communities which naturally means strengthening our public schools,” Cheeks said. “It’s clear that COVID-19 has heightened our community’s awareness of all our schools do.”

Another new foundation effort is Teachers Progress Equity Tools and Supplies (PETS), which in its pilot phase has provided $8,000 of supplies to 100 teachers, said project manager Mary Reinders. The supply and support program for teachers will offer resources to teachers who often spend hundreds of their own dollars for learning materials.

“The district absolutely provides resources and materials and supplies to our schools, and we also partner with parents and families in the community to bring materials to classrooms each year,” Reinders said. “But unfortunately, not all families are able to fulfill the supply lists that teachers give out.”

Foundation for Madison's Public Schools' executive director Melinda Heinritz provided broader partnership updates, highlighting COVID-19 financial relief in recent months.

Early in the pandemic, Heinritz said the foundation chose to focus on schools’ needs in lieu of prepping for its annual Circle of Friends luncheon. Since, it has helped provide over $60,000 in gifts in support to MMSD, including mailing printed materials and facilitating online learning. It also gave over $12,000 to Madison School & Community Recreation.

The press conference highlighted partnerships with Total Administrative Services Corporation, which donated funds and volunteer time totaling $400,000 to over 50 schools. It also stocked the eight MMSD food pantries for a full month and donated books to the Scholastic Book Fair.

The Madison Public Schools Friends and Alumni Network has provided $5,000 across the district’s six high schools to support graduation activities.