When you walk into Kristy Del Olmo’s second-grade class at STEM School Highlands Ranch, the first thing that catches your eye is a multi-colored interactive mat on the floor that the students frequently use. It’s a Liquid Tile Mat that fits perfectly with an art classroom, and it’s an item that was funded by STEM’s PTO.
On that same mat, you will also find students assembling pieces from a Qubits construction toy kit, specifically made for STEM students. The Qubits are another item that was funded by the PTO.
“So it’s exciting to see what the STEM students do with the Qubits, and at the same time, we start our lesson, we finish our lesson here on the aqua (liquid) tiles,” Del Olmo said. “So, the students start their day with that sensory tile, and finish their class time with the sensory tile.”
PTO’s fundraising reach goes far beyond the classroom. The organization also saved STEM’s Spart Mart from taking a big loss due to COVID-19 shutting down the physical store in the Spring of 2020 when perishable food items weren’t able to be sold. Spart Mart’s online store is still operating, but it was the PTO that made up for the lost revenue. Aleza Bautista, STEM’s PTO Co-President, says the Spart Mart situation also served as a teachable moment for the students.
“And we thought that was a great lesson for the kids who run Spart Mart,” Bautista said. “To learn about perishable items and learn what happens when you take a loss as a business.”
STEM’s PTO also stepped up for the upcoming graduation ceremony for the school. Dr. Karen Johnson, STEM’s Director of Curriculum and Accountability says without the PTO funding, graduation for the class of 2021 would have been put in a difficult spot in regards to the venue for the event.
“We had learned from Douglas County that there would be additional fees associated with graduation this year for the upcoming Spring,” Dr. Johnson said. “And because of the PTO, we’re able to offer that graduation ceremony to our students without incurring additional costs to families, so thanks to our PTO for that.”
Leading into a school year, STEM’s PTO will set a budget for teacher grants based on the success of the organization’s fundraising efforts. Teachers then go through a very detailed process where they make a grant request, sometimes in the form of a video showing what they need. They itemize the cost, including shipping and labor expenses, so the PTO knows everything that goes into the item.
“So, we like to make sure that the elementary school, middle school, and the high school, that we spread our funds equitably across all three schools,” Bautista said. “We would never want anybody to think that we’re funding the high school or the elementary school more so than the middle school, so we like to make sure that we take all of those factors into consideration.”
“Without the PTO and their support for these funding opportunities, these particular items would not be able to be purchased through regular department funds for each department,” Dr. Johnson added.
Moving forward, STEM’s PTO is now going to look at additional funding opportunities. The PTO’s funding is housed by The Foundation for Douglas County Schools. That organization recently informed STEM’s PTO that helping pay for scholarships and international travel is also something that could be considered.
“Once you see that it’s not just bake sales and cupcakes, you really get into what the PTO can do for the school,” Bautista said. “For the teachers, students, and community, it really grabs ahold of your heart and becomes more of a passion to make sure that you are spreading goodwill for the community.”
To see the full video feature about STEM’s PTO and the recent projects, click the video below.