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St. Vrain Valley School Education Foundation goes virtual on Saturday

In a typical year, the annual gala can raise around $250,000 between ticket sales and auctions. Money raised goes toward student scholarships, innovation grants for teachers, operational expenses, the annual Crayons to Calculators school supply drive and more. 
St. Vrain Valley School District assembled a 40-student choir from several schools to perform for the St. Vrain Valley Education Foundation Gala on Saturday. (Screenshot courtesy of St. Vrain Valley School District)

Supporting students and teachers through scholarships and grants, the St. Vrain Valley School Education Foundation is tapping in to lessons learned from online learning to host its annual fundraising gala virtually this year.

Each year, the foundation holds the event to celebrate “St. Vrain Valley Schools and the wonderful work that our educators and students are doing,” said Josh Atherton, the foundation’s executive director.  

In a typical year, the annual gala can raise around $250,000 between ticket sales and auctions, according to Atherton. Money raised goes toward student scholarships, innovation grants for teachers, operational expenses, the annual Crayons to Calculators school supply drive and more. 

Atherton hopes to reach a similar goal with Saturday’s virtual event but no matter how much is raised, he said he is touched by the amount of support from the community, which has “stepped up” to give in new ways, such as donating gift cards and auction items.

For Atherton, the event is more than an opportunity to raise money, it is an opportunity to build community.

“If your only objective is to raise money; you’re not going to raise money,” Atherton said. “If your objective is to bring people together and to celebrate your organization and celebrate the good work that you are doing, then the money will come.” 

2020_11_10_LL_st_vrain_foundationo_gala2A donated basket that will be up for grabs in the online silent auction as part of the St. Vrain Valley Education Foundation Gala on Saturday. (Courtesy photo)
Atherton’s objective for the gala has not changed, even as it moves to a virtual platform. 

The event will feature performances by a choir of 40 SVVSD students and Face Vocal Band and messages from Atherton and Superintendent Don Haddad. It also will highlight SVVSD Teacher of the Year Janette Rivera Gonzales.

The student choir is a feat of innovation that surpassed Atherton’s hopes for the event. Instead of choosing one music ensemble from one SVVSD school, as in years past, Janay Bird, SVVSD fine arts coordinator, asked for each school to select two students to sing. Not every school chose to participate. 

Students were asked to record themselves singing “Truly Brave,” which is a choral mash-up of “True Colors” by songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly and “Brave” by Sarah Bareilles. 

The song was chosen because Bird wanted to showcase as many students as possible and it has a positive message appropriate for “young voices and changed voices and all different levels of musicianship,” she said.

The song needed to be versatile because participating students ranged from kindergarten to seniors in high school, Bird said.

“When they asked me if that would be a possibility this year, I started thinking that this is the time where we could showcase students from every school. When we are in person that is not something that could be coordinated easily. But right now that is how students are learning (online) and making music,” she said.

She created materials for music teachers across the district to share with students to learn the song in the hybrid learning environment. Since SVVSD switched to online learning in March, the music departments became well versed in practicing online, Bird said. That familiarity with doing things online gave her the confidence to put together a large and varied choir for the gala. 

As a result, recordings from across the district were sent to Ben Cobb in SVVSD communications, who edited the video and synced up the audio to create the performance. 

“It’s a reflection of where school is at right now, some of the recordings are from (students’) bedrooms, so you might see a teddy bear; some are classroom recordings. It shows that no matter where (students) are, they’re still learning and being creative,” Bird said. 

Atherton said, “It’s again celebrating who we are and that education doesn’t stop no matter if there’s a major virus. This is something we are very excited to see.”

Parent and foundation community liaison Michelle Phelan said, “It is exciting to have this performance by our students because it really highlights the way our district is trying to navigate through this to still find those special moments.” 

The gala will retain its tradition of a silent auction and a paddle raiser. The silent auction will be made up of baskets donated by individual schools, community donors and local businesses. 

“We actually have more silent auction items this year than we have had in years past,” Phelan said. 

2020_11_10_LL_st_vrain_foundationo_gala3Guests of the 2019 Education Foundation Gala participate in paddle raiser to help support local schools. (Courtesy photo)
Atherton said participants are invited to bid on auction items and make donations, however, that is not required to attend. 

The event is free. Participants are asked to pre-register by 5:59 p.m. Saturday. Once the event begins at 6 p.m., registration is still possible, it just gets “tricky” Atherton said. 

The gala will be livestreamed on the foundation’s YouTube channel and on Comcast Channel 8.
2020_11_10_LL_st_vrain_foundationo_gala4St. Vrain Valley School Education Foundation Executive Director Josh Atherton awards Education Foundation Scholarships to Leilani Purcell and Michael Clementson with at last year's gala. (Courtesy photo)