Students target support for schools

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — In the fall of 2014, as an 11th-grader at Hillside High School in Durham, Jalen McGee submitted a proposal to the Durham Public Schools for funding and resources to support independent research he wanted to conduct on prosthetic limbs.

When the schools administration replied it lacked funds to sponsor his project, McGee quickly “went to work to plan how I could make sure that every student who comes after me who desires to conduct independent research in high school could have the opportunity to do so.”

McGee and a handful of other students formed The iMpact Education Foundation, a nonprofit that is trying to raise $5,000 to secure tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service and get started.

Now overseen by a board of seven Hillside graduates who all are rising college freshmen, the Foundation aims to raise $200,000 by September 30, 2017, and will focus on providing funds for scholarships, teachers and student projects, and college-readiness workshops.

The Foundation’s board members will spend the next year raising money and recruiting college and high school students to support the fundraising effort. Between them, they will enroll this fall at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The Foundation aims to enlist honor societies at 30 to 40 high schools, for example, to partner on events such as spelling bees and science fairs to raise a total of $70,000.

It hopes to raise another $90,000 through crowdfunding campaigns, by creating iMpact Education Foundation clubs on college campuses that would solicit corporate donations, and by seeking challenge grants from companies that would match other funds the Foundation raises.

And it will try to raise another $40,000 in government and foundation grants.

Efforts to enrich the experience of high school students, including the purchase of resources and materials for student projects, and offering college-readiness workshops, will account for the biggest program at the new Foundation, says McGee, who was inducted into the academic Hall of Fame at Hillside High School and has been awarded Coca Cola, Goodnight and Blacks at Microsoft scholarships totaling $118,000.

“We’ve all gone through North Carolina public schools all our lives,” he says of the Foundation’s seven board members. “We asked what could have made our experience better. We decided to put more project-based learning into schools.”

A big focus, particularly in the face of government cuts in spending for public schools, will be supporting student projects and research, says McGee, who is working this summer handling quality assurance for the website and mobile app for Spiffy, a mobile car-wash company in Durham. He plans to major in electrical and computer engineering, and hopes after college to work for the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency.

“What we remember from each school year were the projects we did,” he says. “They help you retain more information.”

The Foundation also hopes each year to award 10 scholarships of $4,000 each to seniors graduating from North Carolina high schools, and to give $200 each to 100 teachers nominated by their students.

Teachers, McGee says, “are the backbone of our education system.”