November 16, 2001

Hilltop Elementary Gets Connected With PacBell Community Grant

By Yvette tenBerge

On the morning of Thursday, November 15, the National City Boys & Girls Club, located at 1430 D Avenue, was not filled with children gathering to play, but with representatives from community organizations and local schools gathering to receive "community enrichment program grants" from The Pacific Bell Foundation.

Dennis Doyle (Assistant Superintendent of Chula Vista Elementary School District), Bruce Ferguson (Principal of Hilltop Elementary), Sue Johnson, Scott Alevy (Director of External Affairs for PacBell), Mayor George Waters and County Supervisor Greg Cox.

As part of their ongoing community outreach effort, The Pacific Bell Foundation made $350,000 in grant money available to community groups who are developing "innovative programs" that use technology for "educational, economic and community development issues."

The awards ranged from $5,000 to $15,000 and were given to groups in Imperial, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. Out of the more than 200 Southern California organizations that applied, 33 were selected to receive grants. Of those awarded, San Diego organizations and schools received 14 grants, which totaled $186,000.

Among the winners was Hilltop Drive Elementary School, one of 37 schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. They received a grant for $15,000 in order to create the Hilltop Community Media Center, a room equipped to provide students, staff and the surrounding community with a much needed, up-to-date technology resource center.

Bruce Ferguson has served as the principal of Hilltop Elementary for the past three years. He is quick to express his "elation" at having been selected as one of Pacific Bell's grant recipients, the money from which will go to further the school's philosophy. "We believe that Hilltop is an integral part of the Chula Vista community. We believe that in educating a child we must work with the family, student and community when addressing the needs of the whole child," says Mr. Ferguson, who adds that the grant was written in response to a pre-survey, the results of which showed that the community had a "high interest" in having a resource center that both students and parents could use.

It was the changing demographics of Hilltop over the past few years that helped create the need for such a center. Of its 560 students, 57 percent are Hispanic, 44 percent are Anglo and three percent are African-American. The remainder of the students are American or Alaskan Indian, Asian or Filipino. Of this student body, 44 percent qualify to receive free and reduced lunch and 19 percent are English language learners.

Ignacio De La Torre, Area V-P for PacBell External Affairs, presents a check for $186,000 to Hon. Greg Cox.

"As the demographics of Hilltop change, we recognize the need for additional resources to be provided for our families. We have families that cannot make it to the public library, and we can help them by keeping our school library open during the evenings and on Saturday mornings," says Mr. Ferguson. "We have families who do not have access to the Internet, and we can help them by providing the computers and training at the school media center after the school day."

The grand opening of the Hilltop Community Media Center is tentatively scheduled for January 2002, which will give the school time to purchase and install six additional computers to support the technology portion of the grant.

Sue Johnson is the kindergarten teacher responsible for doing the majority of the writing for the winning proposal. She has been a teacher at Hilltop Elementary for the past eight years, and has written four winning grant proposals this year, alone. She confirms that parents and teachers will volunteer their time and services to get and keep the media center up and running.

"We have a lot of parent involvement at our school, and we have one of the most involved Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) in the Chula Vista School District," says Ms. Johnson, who adds that the community has also requested that the media center provide pamphlets announcing community opportunities and events, and computer workshops. "We want Hilltop Elementary to be the heart of the community."

Among the criteria on which the proposals were judged are the program's ability to "meet community needs," especially in communities typically under-served by technological innovations, their ability to enhance the quality of life in their county, their ability to bridge gaps between communities and their ability to expand the availability of information resources.

According to Bridget Stachowski, a Spokesperson for Pacific Bell, the several month-long process was difficult due to all of the deserving organizations that applied. Despite this rigorous process, Hilltop managed to stand out. "Hilltop Drive Elementary School submitted a grant proposal to build an up-to-date technology resource center. This program fits many of the criteria: it improves the quality of education, as well as expands access to technology," says Ms. Stachowski. "It was an ideal match for the Community Enrichment Program."

Some of the other programs to receive grants were the Boys & Girls Club of National City, the Education Assistance Foundation, the Mariachi Scholarship Foundation, the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Cajon Valley Unified School District/Rotary Club of El Cajon

For more information about the Community Enrichment Program, contact the program office at (619) 237-2041. 

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