Non-profit Spotlight: Polk Education Foundation

Non-profit Spotlight: Polk Education Foundation

The Polk Education Foundation (PEF) was established in 1988 as a non-profit direct support organization for Polk County schools. Originally established as a vehicle to administer college scholarships to graduating seniors, the PEF has grown to do many more things.

With a staff of just seven full-time and one part-time employee, the scope of the PEF’s work is vast. Their largest program remains their annual scholarship program and thanks to generous donors from the community, they award around 350 scholarships a year directing approximately $700,000 to Polk County students for college.

Eighty volunteers are utilized to review scholarship applications and some donors chose to make those selections themselves. One aspect of their scholarship program is the Take Stock in Children (TSIC) program, which promises not only a two year tuition scholarship, but also a mentor who meets with the high school student regularly at their school site, lending a caring ear and helping them stay on track to graduate.

TSIC students are usually selected when they are in the ninth grade, so between TSIC staff and their mentor, they have a wonderful support system throughout their high school years. Donors to this program have the benefit of having their donations matched dollar-for-dollar through scholarships purchased from the Florida Prepaid College program.

The theme of the PEF assisting students carries on with AmeriCorps Polk Reads. This PEF program provides trained reading tutors at selected elementary schools around the county to help their lowest achieving kindergarten through third grade students become better readers. Their classroom teacher selects the students tutored and the tutors consult with the teacher each week on the skills each child needs help with. Tutoring sessions are done one-on-one with individualized plans made for each student’s needs.

Another part of the success of this program is that tutoring is done during the school day in the child’s regular reading block, so there is no need for before or after school transportation. And there is no cost to the school or the child’s family for the tutoring services. Each year approximately 600 students make reading gains in this program.

The Teacher to Teacher Connection not only shares innovative and successful teaching practices, but offers stipends to the teachers who have developed the creative programs and grants to teachers that want to replicate the programs in their own classrooms.

A large Idea Expo is held in the fall with visual displays representing each program, for elementary and middle school teachers to learn about the programs, network with their colleagues and share information with from each other. To date over $465,000 in grants has been awarded in this program.

The PEF also offers grants from other sources, one a matching program for schools with funds provided from the Florida Legislature, and another with funds from Duke Energy to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. About $100,000 is awarded each in in classroom and school grants from the PEF.

Another way the PEF assists students and their teachers, is through the Free Teacher Market. Filled with crayons, paper, pencils, folders, staplers, etc., the Free Teacher Market is a place where teachers get classroom supplies for free. It is open twice a month after school hours and teachers must register to attend.

The signature FUNdraiser of the PEF has become their Stepping Out for Education event. In its fifth year, this “Dancing with the Stars” type of event matches community “celebrities” with professional dance partners, and just like the TV show, the couples perform ballroom dances and their performances are judged. Money is raised through event sponsorships and the dancers vie for the “People’s Choice Award” where they solicit $1 votes from friends and family. Over $80,000 gross was raised at last year’s event. The 2014 event is September 26.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor, scholarship reviewer, celebrity dancer, who has donations for the Free Teacher Market, or to support a program read about here or on the PEF website at, call Executive Director Susan Copeland, 863-534-0434, or email