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One evening in late August, nine St. Louis students, parents, and educators gathered around a conference table to read through grant applications and award a collective $100,000 to proposals that promised to serve students in the most meaningful, innovative ways.

The applications came from schools, school districts and non-profit organizations whose ideas ranged from providing music therapy at a charter elementary school to launching a virtual STEM learning center at a north St. Louis County school district.

The committee awarding the grants was just as innovative – a group that spanned three generations with a range of experiences, who cared deeply about addressing education inequities in the St. Louis area. It was the first time The Opportunity Trust had ceded grantmaking power to community members, giving them the reins in determining which ideas addressing education inequity were best for area schools.

“It was a great opportunity to have a platform that allows everyday people to have a voice,” said Rochelle Bea, program manager at Beginning Futures Learning Center, who served on the committee.

Participatory grantmaking changes the power dynamics of traditional philanthropy. The Opportunity Trust announced its Reinvention by Community Fund over the summer, demonstrating how education inequity can be best addressed by those who have experienced it.

Committee members were nominated by schools, nonprofits, or applied in response to targeted outreach in marginalized communities. Qualifications included living in St. Louis or St. Louis County, identifying as Black or Brown, and being at least 14 years old.

“Reinvention by Community is one of many ways we’re listening to and responding to those most impacted by educational inequity in our community,” said Eric Scroggins, CEO and Founder of The Opportunity Trust. “Giving grantmaking authority to parents, students, and educators helped us make wiser investments.”

Through a process that involved discussion and multiple rounds of voting, the committee allocated 12 grants of $2,500, $5,000, and $10,000 to schools, organizations that promised to address a full range of student and educator needs – from academics and content development to social-emotional learning and wellness.

Sarah Thompson, a parent who works in marketing and public relations, said involving the community brought different perspectives that otherwise would have been left out of the decision making process. “In the end, it does pay off to have that sort of collaboration,” she said. “Everyone’s voice is very valid. At the end of the process, what you realize is regardless of age differences, regardless of backgrounds, there is a commonality of what we think around education access and equity.”

Members of the committee were (top left to right) Angela Lawuary, Kiera Williams, Rochelle Bea; (middle left to right) Angela Tabb, ReKeisha Lomax, Ilyana Hubbard; (bottom left to right) Geno Prater, Sarah Thompson, Monique Taylor.

The following are the Reinvention By Community grant recipients:

Reading with Mr. Ramos – $5,000
Expansion of weekly story time videos for children used in elementary classrooms.

Marrow and Stalk – $10,000
Program in the Normandy Schools Collaborative to help students develop entrepreneur skills.

NAMI St. Louis – $10,000
Expansion of the Ending the Silence program to the City of St. Louis to address mental health education.

Metro Theatre Company – $10,000
Providing access to every 4th and 5th grade student at Lee H. Hamilton Intermediate School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District to Metro Theatre’s signature programs: Building Community Through Drama; and Say Something, Do Something.

Lift for Life Academy – $10,000
An initiative that would transform the experience at Lift For Life Academy by allowing juniors and seniors to choose a career pathway that will tailor their educational experience based on their postsecondary goals and aspirations.

Healing Songs – $10,000
After-school experiences at Eagle College Prep Elementary School providing mental health services through music therapy, as well a program called Club Invention that will offer fun, problem solving situations.

Vashon High School, St. Louis Public Schools – $10,000
Show Me the World – a student trip to Costa Rica that gives students the opportunity to experience different cultures, build a business, and more.

KIPP St. Louis – $2,500
Professional development for staff to help implement social-emotional learning programming at KIPP St. Louis.

City Garden Montessori – $10,000
Expand arts education to include a focus on Social Justice Arts Programming.

Atlas Public Schools – $10,000
Providing students and families with social emotional learning activities and books to help students feel represented and heard; equipment that will allow for more movement and sensory integration opportunities throughout the school building; book bundles from EyeSeeMe to build up classroom libraries.

The Leadership School – $10,000
In-person learning experiences for children kindergarten through second grade to sharpen literacy and math skills.

Riverview Gardens School District – $2,500
Develop a virtual STEM Learning Center.