Have you ever made a discovery that led to an exhilarating a-ha moment? Perhaps when you found a $20 bill in your pants pocket that you didn’t realize was there? How about some of the more notable discoveries such as Sir Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin or even Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity? Life was just never the same.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County hosted a Discovery Tour yesterday by filling a bus full of our supporters, including donors, board members, and community representatives. We took them on a tour of three Sarasota County Schools to witness firsthand how donations translate into innovative and engaging programs through our EducateSRQ initiative. This was a behind-the-scenes peak at some of the 211 classroom and school-wide grants administered by the Education Foundation that our donors supported by giving more than $264,000, inspiring hundreds of teachers and touching thousands of students.

Booker Middle School Principal Dr. LaShawn Frost poignantly commented that Booker Middle is a place where students’ inner talent becomes outer strength. It is a developmental journey indeed and the Education Foundation strives to ensure students in our community graduate with purpose and prepared for a post-secondary pathway. Watching the students engaged in their classrooms with imaginative, dedicated and highly qualified teachers affirmed these grants are valued, needed and make an impact. We observed some students working in a hydroponics lab, others immersed in creative writing, while still others were actively coding or creating 2-D and 3-D art. Classes like these, where teachers are equipped to excel in their craft and where students are actively engaged, instill the joy of lifelong learning and being part of this “discovery” for students and teachers is the best reward.

We also visited Booker High School, where a school-wide grant allowed for the expansion of a semester-long curriculum course created to encourage freshmen to formulate ideas about their short and long-term goals, engaging them in preparation for a post-secondary future. We met students who enthusiastically explained their newfound knowledge of opera and learned how the supplementary activities provided cooperative learning experiences while aiding in memory retention. The tour ended with a blast! Students at Wilkinson Elementary, where grants were centered on a variety of STEAM explorations and reading initiatives, culminated in the detonating of their own rockets. The pure delight on the faces of these 3rd graders is an incredible motivator for the work we do.

Looking back on this school year, there were many incredible discoveries. We watched an introverted young student transform to lead a hackathon team, we observed a high school art student with the goal of pursuing a medical career explain the inspiration behind his art work to a captivated donor, and we listened to an inquisitive middle school class ask questions during a Career Explorations field trip to a local company who manufacturers medical devices. These discoveries were made possible because of generous donors who support the mission of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, providing exhilarating a-ha moments for students, teachers and us.

Our work at the Education Foundation continues because we want more discoveries and more a-ha moments. We are putting the final touches on a new College & Career Center for Booker Middle School, expanding coding opportunities for students, exploring a new student entrepreneurship program, and brainstorming ideas with Sarasota County Schools’ leadership to align and support their priorities. As our work continues to help each student reach their full potential, yesterday’s Discovery Tour reminded me that because of the generous support from our community, life will never be the same.