Recognizing Excellence:  We believe the future of our community depends on the skills, character, and civic spirit of our children and the quality of the schools they attend.
 
Our goal is to enhance learning throughout West County and to provide recognition and opportunity to deserving students and teachers.  Our programs are funded in a variety of ways.  We have dedicated our Crab Feed's proceeds to the Teacher Grant Program.  The Club's Foundation supports several programs with annual appropriations.  In addition, the Club long ago realized that we needed to have the ability to provide stable, consistent support for many of our activities from one year to the next, and to facilitate that goal, we established a separate Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation, which now has an endowment approaching $1 million.  Its income is regularly applied to guarantee stability for our annual programs and to facilitate our ability to take on a long-term project that requires a large, multi-year commitment, currently the opening of a Construction Corps site at Analy High School.    
 
In 2019-20, our spending on various education projects would have exceeded $100,000 but for the interruptions in school life caused by the coronavirus.   In addition, club members spend hundreds of hours a year with students, mentoring and tutoring kids in both our local elementary and secondary schools. 
 
(For a lengthier description of SREF, go to www.sebastopol-rotary-education-foundation.org.)
 
Honoring Great Students and Teachers:
 
               In High School: Overcoming Obstacles Awards – Many students in high school face significant challenges to reach graduation.  Those who have the grit and perseverance to make it through often want to make a difference helping others who are facing similar obstacles.  These are the kids who will make our future a better place.
              
The Rotary Club of Sebastopol recognizes and rewards such remarkable high school seniors through its Overcoming Obstacles Award Program.  Choosing from applicants at our three local high schools, we award six deserving students with scholarships and a half day leadership workshop that gives them the opportunity to talk with community leaders who faced similar challenges when they were young.
                 
In 2020, each student received a $2250 scholarship and $200 in cash.
               
In normal years, the Club invites the honorees to a luncheon meeting where they speak about their experiences.  This year, our team re-created the event with a Zoom meeting.  Despite the lack of physical closeness, the emotional power of high school seniors talking about how they met the challenges in their lives and still excelled at school was extraordinary.  The experience was so moving that other Rotary Clubs are now seeking to create their own awards so that their local students can have the same moving experience.  Here are a few of the comments we have gathered after the 2020 event:
               “To our phenomenal students - thank you for being who you are.  You have just made 100 people's day 100% better.  You make us want to be like you!!
               “You are really honoring the wholeness of humanity... .  It gives everyone hope for the future and fills our need for personal connection in a time of social distancing.  You are truly giving a gift to everyone in your club today.”
               “What a great thing, I had tears in my eyes.”
 
But to really understand the impact of the event, read what one of our awardees told us shortly afterward:
                  "... I truly hope you know how much today's event means to me and, I am sure, the other students.  It was eye opening to listen to [the morning workship] speakers - both the adults and the students - who have overcome enormous challenges in their lives to achieve greatness.  I deeply belong that by having events and scholarships like this one, you are helping students reach goals that wouldn't have been able to do otherwise."  
                                                                                                                                                
               In College: Leadership Award – Santa Rosa Junior College Scholarships – We believe in recognizing and rewarding students who have demonstrated strong leadership or show that they are likely to become future leaders.  
 
In 2020, we received 38 applications from West County students at Santa Rosa Junior College.  We gave four scholarships of $4000 each to four students, Melinda Sterne, Sarah Woolsey, Edward Gathercole, and Ana Onofre Leon. They best demonstrated real leadership skills along with academic excellence and a realistic vocational plan that incorporates serious humanitarian goals.  The size of the scholarships, which are far larger than those given as part of the Junior College’s Doyle scholarship program, gives a big boost to the terrific students who receive them.  Here are the goals of our current winners:
               - a future nurse practitioner who wants to serve minority communities;
               - a future nurse who wants to devote herself to poor, medically-underserved communities abroad;
               - a student who has overcome significant obstacles who wants to assist foster children; 
               - a budding engineer and computer specialist who wants to work in solar energy.
 
                     Among Faculty: Teacher of the Year - The Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation funds the Teacher of the Year Awards.  The goal of these awards is to recognize the skills and dedication of West County teachers who engage our children and provide the kind of education experience that will be the foundation for a productive and happy life.  
 
Historically, we selected three teachers based on their careers as outstanding educators.  In 2020, we changed the criteria.  Now, one teacher is selected to honor their life-long contribution to learning, but we established new criteria for the other two awardees.  Now, one award goes to a teacher with fewer than three years in the profession who has developed into an effective and energizing force at his or her school.  The other award goes to a teacher who has championed and established some innovative idea affecting school life that has improved the overall student experience.  Each recipient receives $1000 from SREF.
        This year are three winners were:
          - Mary Jo Kinser of Pleasant Hill Christian School, who was given the award for her outstanding work over a 38 year career, during which she helped create and build the school into the institution it is today.  
          - Joe Maloney of Laguna High School, who has for years worked to expand opportunities for his students and was, this year, instrumental in helping bring the Construction Corps to West County.
          - Sydnee Mardell of Twin Hills Charter Middle School, won the new teacher award based on her bringing in new knowledge of technology and its applications to learning, and her positive and warm attitude toward faculty and students.
             
As with the Overcoming Obstacles Awards, the club was not able to invite these teachers to a luncheon because of the coronavirus.  Nor, was the SREF Committee that made the awards able to go to the schools where these teachers taught to surprise them in front of their students with the announcement that they had won.  Instead, we resorted to Zoom for a wonderful, if different, experience.  Dozens of people were on the three calls when we announced that Mary Jo, Joe, or Sydnee had been selected.  There were alumni, fellow teachers, and administrators, many of whom could never previously have been able to share in the moment.  It enhanced the presentation, making them perhaps even more memorable than if we had done them in person.  Our recognitions drew the attention of the Press-Democrat, which ran a long story about our awards in its April 26, 2020 edition.     
 
Supporting Great Instruction:
 
               North Bay Construction Corps - The Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation in 2019-20 committed to bringing the Construction Corps to West County for three years.  The Corps is a project of the North Coast Builders' Exchange designed to expose high school seniors to opportunities in the construction trades.  Students meet once a week in the evening during their last semester of high school, as well as longer Saturday sessions once a month and a two-week "boot camp" after graduation.  Some of the program's graduates are hired directly by construction companies or enter apprenticeship programs immediately following boot camp, while others head to SRJC for certificates or go to four-year colleges in construction management or architecture.
                 
When it became clear that the West Sonoma County Union High School District would no longer offer a construction-related course for interested students, SREF stepped in.  The Builders' Exchange, which already had successful chapters of the program elsewhere in the county, required a three-year funding commitment in order to bring the program to West County, a challenge that SREF and its endowment were designed to meet.  The program turned out to be even more popular than either the Builders' Exchange or SREF expected.  The forecast was that the program would attract between 15-25 seniors from our three high schools.  In fact, there were 27 local West County students (plus four others) in the program when it was suspended because of coronavirus.       
 
              Mark Sell Rotary Teacher Grants ­– The Mark Sell Rotary Teacher Grant Program provides teachers in West Sonoma County with $50 to $500 grants to fulfill a variety of requests.  Since the start of the program in 2002, the club has distributed 944 grants to 39 schools totaling almost $300,000.  In 2019, our grants supported a variety of projects like computer printers, a compost tumbler, audio visual equipment, and drug education materials.  In 2020, we raised an additional $26,000 for grants, but our selection process was interrupted by the coronavirus and suspended.  The grants are given in two cycles, spring and fall.  Please check back at the  start of the Fall 2020 semester for updated information about the Fall round of grants.
             
Here is what some of our recipients have to say about their grant:
 
               “Rotary allows me to do more than just the minimal requirement in my classroom.  They have supported my unique perspectives on teaching and gave me the resources to make it happen.  I feel as though Sebastopol Rotary is on the teacher’s side of education where kids come first and ideas are supported.  It is a really nice feeling to have someone like Rotary always in your corner.”
                              - Katya Robinson, West County Special Education Consortium
 
               “With the Sebastopol Rotary Club Teacher Mini-Grants, I have been able to provide my students with professional real-world tools and equipment that have helped solidify the applications and connections in my curriculum.  Thank you for supporting our school mathematics program.”
                              - David Casey, Analy High School Math Teacher and leader, Project Make
 
Mark Sell Rotary Teacher Grants are funded by money raised at our annual Sebastopol Rotary Crab Feed in February.  This year, we fed 1700 pounds of crab to over 550 people at two seatings on a wonderful Saturday night in February.  And we added a new feature to the event: a crab art contest.  We were delighted with over 400 entries from elementary, middle, and high school students, all of which were hanging on the walls of the Holy Ghost Hall in Sebastopol for diners to see.  We picked two winners, Alice Aguilar from Monte Rio School, who won in the elementary school category, and Zoe Furch of Analy High School, who won in the secondary school competition.  We look forward to continuing the contest in future years, making "crab art" as sought after as our great Sonoma crab.
 

               Learn With Me Rotary’s Learn With Me is dedicated to supporting the healthy development of Kindergarten - 4th grade students currently reading and achieving below grade level at Park Side School.  Begun in 1998 as Read To Me, the Sebastopol Rotary Club, recognizing the positive impact caring adult volunteers have on student learning, established a reading practice program pairing volunteers with third grade students.  Over time, the program expanded grade levels and broadened to address a wide range of academic skills.  in 2019-20, until interrupted by the coronavirus shutdown, 25 Rotarians and community volunteers supported 65 students with personalized one-on-one and small group sessions, providing over 1000 hours of tutoring.  As a sign of the programs’ benefit, all K-4 teachers have requested Rotary’s Learn With Me tutors. Teachers select students who will benefit from individualized help and encouragement. Over 75 percent of our students qualify for the Free Lunch program, half are English Language Learners and many deal with multiple stressors in their homes. As a second grade teacher said: “I really see a difference in my students’ confidence to learn."

Would you like to volunteer? Contact: Deborah Drehmel at 293-4147 or dremichmel@gmail.com               

 

               Student Speech AwardsAlthough the club has been unable to hold its speech contest for the past two years because of unanticipated problems like the coronavirus, it has for many years hosted students from our three local high schools who show their communication skills by giving six minute speeches on timely issues that reflect the principles of Rotary.  In 2018, the subject for the speeches was: "After the fire."
           
That year our six contestants, Emily Cline, Rebekah Cavallo, Marion Hall-Zazueta, Lily Kienlen, Ella Kinderman, and Ryan Debrovner, addressed the topic from a variety of viewpoints.  While some spoke directly to their reaction to the devastation, others took more abstract approaches to how a person reacts to fire and destruction, or to the death of a close loved one.  The judges named three honorable mentions: Emily Cline, Ella Kinderman, and Ryan Debrovner, each of whom received an award of $75.  Third place went to Rebekah Cavallo, along with a $125 prize.  Lily Kienlen took second place and $175.  This year's winner was Marion Hall-Zazueta, who received $250.
           
Tricia Maxson, Analy High’s speech and debate coach wrote to the club: “Thank you.  I am so proud of our speakers and am thrilled with the response from the Rotary Club of Sebastopol.  Please let the Rotarians know that we are so grateful for their support of our program and for the opportunity to speak.  I am struck by the personal generosity…. Please offer everyone at Rotary my genuine appreciation.”
 
               Financial Literacy – In 2009, Sebastopol Rotary envisioned an initiative to address a glarning need: Only one in six high school graduates receive any financial education.  Our goal is to reach EVERY senior in our local high schools to discuss topics such as savings and investing, budgeting, credit cards and debt, balancing a checkbook, taxes, insurance, and charitable giving.  The students leave with a flash drive filled with resources to help build a successful life. 
              
Our club selects local professionals and Rotarians to lead the discussions.  In 2010, our first year, we worked with 500-600 students in 13 classes, and have continued these programs ever since.  Almost 3000 students have now attended the workshops.             
             
               Dictionary Program – The Dictionary Program provides hard cover dictionaries to all third graders in the schools we support – Brook Haven, Pleasant Hill Christian, Apple Blossom. Orchard View, Gravenstein, Oak Grove, Sebastopol Charter, Park Side, and Salmon Creek.  In 2019-20, we distributed almost 400 copies.
              
Even in the computer age, the students value the dictionaries; some of them are thrilled because they have never owned a book before and many still need this useful reference tool because they do not have Internet connectivity at home.
 
               West Sonoma County Career Fair – Although interrupted this year by coronavirus, Sebastopol Rotary and Sebastopol Sunrise Rotary partner every year on a Career Fair at Analy High School for students at all three local high schools.  Designed jointly with the Analy High School College and Career Department, this event connects employers to students and exposes them to career and volunteer opportunities.  Fifty professionals and business executives spend three hours sharing experiences and knowledge with over 500 students and their parents to help guide them on their career choices and college plans. In addition, many companies seek students for part- or full-time job opportunities. 
 
To help them get the most out of the event, before the fair, Rotarians help students practice interviewing for a job and reviewing their resumes.  For those students interested, the practice interviews are videotaped and analyzed with the help of the Rotarians.
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See also the website of the Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation, www.sebastopol-rotary-education-foundation.org.  
 
 
 
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