January 28, 2021

CCEF Bolsters Distance Learning with Grant


When the Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD) moved to distance learning in March of 2020, over 7,000 students and teachers had to abruptly adjust, using entirely new methods of learning and instruction. It seemed with the closure of most school facilities, inevitably students would no longer have access to essential classroom supplies nor to performing and visual art programs normally conducted in person.

The Culver City Education Foundation (CCEF), with the vital support of many, stepped up to bridge gaps with a total of $150,000 in grants to help provide fundamental art supply kits, academic support, computer software and the transition of highly valued theater and music programs to virtual platforms

Heather Moses, CCUSD arts coordinator, said “The CCEF grants have been instrumental in keeping arts education strong in the district. In this time of crisis, the arts are critical for many students, it offers them a creative, supportive space that becomes an important part of their daily routine

As Graeme Hinde, a director of Story Pirates, one of six theater organizations in CCUSD’s Front and Center Collaborative noted, “Just because the kids aren’t physically in school doesn’t mean their creativity stops.”

CCEF’s $45,000 grant to the district-wide Front and Center Collaborative enabled many of its partners, including The Actors’ Gang, Center Theatre Group, Story Pirates, Young Storytellers and 24th Street Theatre to continue offering programs through a virtual format. These activities included live-streaming classes and after-school workshops.

For example, Center Theatre Group taught a playwriting class for Culver City High School students, Culver City based The Actors’ Gang worked with English language learners attending Culver City Middle School (CCMS) and Young Storytellers worked with fifth grade students across the district.

Art Supply Kits

The necessary closure of school sites unfortunately created the need for students to have basic art supplies which had previously been provided in the classrooms.

Responding to the urgent need, CCEF allocated $68,000 for the purchase of art supply kits and makerspace kits for all elementary students. Each supply kit contained a sketch book, color pencils, a watercolor set, brushes and oil pastels. The makerspace kit contained cardboard, tape, glue stick, twine and rulers. The art supply kits were made possible through an extraordinary bequest given to CCEF by Darlene Bilkiss, a long-time educator within CCUSD.

The shift to distance learning also meant middle school students no longer had access to equipment in the school’s computer lab. At the request of Joe Stanley, CCMS computer teacher, CCEF granted $1,000 that allowed students to continue studying animation on district- supplied Chromebooks.

Sadly, the requirement to use virtual platforms for learning has also resulted in a growing number of students struggling in many ways, including academically. The situation became a particular problem at the high school, where students must pass courses to graduate and be eligible for college. School leadership identified a solution which led CCEF to help fund an “intervention counselor” at the high school who will focus on those students significantly underperforming at this critical time. This dire need was partially funded by a gift to CCEF from Culver City High School alumnus, Richard Wells.

CCEF also allocated funds totaling $19,850 to support student athletes. CCEF applied for and received a grant of $11,850 from the Foundation for Global Sports Development to support a comprehensive tutoring program for student athletes.

In addition, CCEF will provide $8,000 to the high school athletic department to cover tournament fees, in anticipation of some sports resuming later in the school year. This grant replaces funds normally generated from game day revenues such as admission fees, snack bar sales and program ads.

According to Renae Williams Niles, CCEF executive director, “We are glad we were able to be a truly responsive partner with the district. We swiftly worked to reallocate funds and quickly acquired new financial resources benefiting the entire district and across many distinct areas including the arts, academics, technology and athletics. Increasing our strategic and meaningful impact district-wide is the motivation for CCEF now and for the future.”

Landon Vabulas, 6, and Nolan Vabulas, 8, students at La Ballona Elementary School show working with the art kits donated by CCEF.

Click here to see this article published on page 5 in the January issue of Culver Currents.