When former Waubonsie Valley High School science teacher Elaine Modine heard of opportunities so extraordinary, unique and groundbreaking they sounded nearly impossible, she knew who to call: the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation.
Conducting genetics research for an international project, extracting and analyzing students' own DNA, starting a biotech club for students to conduct high-level research and taking buses of students to labs at the University of Illinois and in St. Louis -- all of these and more are among initiatives the foundation helped fund.
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"Things you think you'd never be able to do in your classroom, the foundation will make it happen for you," said Modine, who spent 19 years teaching at Waubonsie until retiring in 2011. "The foundation gave me opportunities to make my vision and dreams a reality. And my vision was for my students to have the very best opportunities they could in the field of science."
Stories like these form the history of the foundation, which was organized 25 years ago to support academic, artistic, physical and social/emotional education efforts above and beyond those funded by tax dollars in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Executive Director Susan Rasmus said.
Stories of the foundation's support of fine arts, heart screenings, school supplies and winter coats, educational extras and recognition for top students will be told as the foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary at 8 p.m. Friday, March 21, at North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave.
"The entire event is about sharing our story with people," Rasmus said about the evening, which will include musical performances by award-winning ensembles from Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley high schools as well as appearances by prominent alumni and retired staff members like Modine.
Highlighting current students, like Sushmitha Suresh, whose singing was featured in the Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial "America is Beautiful," and alumni, like professional opera singer Tamara Wilson and independent film producer JJ Starr, will help display the effects of programs the foundation has made possible over the past quarter-century, Rasmus said.
Alan Fry, the foundation's chairman for its first 23 years, said the nonprofit organization started with a focus on increasing opportunities in fine arts. In 1988, when one of his sons was in elementary school, the only high school orchestra program in the district consisted of one violinist and one cello player thrown into the band with students who played woodwind and brass instruments.
Fry said then-Superintendent Thomas Scullen asked him to start a nonprofit organization to help fund a better musical program, telling him "you can't have a primo high school without a symphony orchestra."
The focus on music has paid off, with all three high schools being recognized through the prestigious Grammy Awards. But Fry said the foundation has maintained flexibility and its funding priorities are changing with the times.
Now, Rasmus said it is looking more toward extending programs in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, and providing extra supports for the district's growing population of students classified as "at-risk" because of their financial situation or other aspects of their background.
Aside from celebrating 25 years, the anniversary event will remind parents and community members where money goes when it is donated to the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation.
"There were times when we would say 'We're the best-kept secret in the district,'" Fry said. "We were just behind the scenes funding things."
Tickets to the event are $25 and will be available until they sell out through the Wentz Hall box office at tickets.noctrl.edu. VIP tickets that include a dinner before the show at Hugo's Frog Bar or Sullivan's Steakhouse cost $125 and are only available until Saturday, March 15.