As the new principal of Discovery Community School, Curt Rock started the school year with a series of ideas on how to serve the increasingly diverse student body. He wanted to foster a more welcoming, inclusive community where everyone felt like they belonged.
It was during a visit with the Rotary Club of St. Cloud to the school last fall that Steve Joul, president of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, first learned about Rock's vision. Also serving as Rotary president, Joul had organized the visit as a part of the club's “Building Bridges” theme to build social capital in the community.
Foundation staff Melinda Sanders and Susan Lorenz then reached out to Rock to learn more. One of his wishes seemed simple: Give every student at Discovery School t-shirt so the kids could see they are all on the same team.
The Community Foundation began sharing the concept with donors. "When the idea of buying t-shirts was brought up, I questioned the need,” said Mark Thelen, a retired St. Cloud business owner who has a fund at the Foundation with his wife, Ann. “But then I was shown the rich diversity of Discovery School's student body and the genuine need for many of its new students to feel included.”
About one-third of the school’s students are English learners and 83 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to Rock. The student body is increasingly diverse. Only 40 percent of the students are Caucasian, 30 percent are African American and 21 percent are Hispanic.
"If matching t-shirts bring a sense of belonging to a group of disparate children and even a little elation, that's a good thing,” Ann Thelen said.
The Community Foundation brought together a group of donors who shared an interest in the cause to foster a greater sense of belonging and community at the local school. The donors include: Mark and Ann Thelen, Nancy Ehlen, Kathy and Dr. John Reisinger, Kevin and Teresa Hilger, and Gary and Jane Marsden.
Together, they provided the funds needed to give every student a bright blue Discovery Dolphins t-shirt and ensure field trips were accessible for all students this past school year.
“From what we have seen, it has made a difference,” Mark Thelen said.
Rock agrees. "This is a wonderful way to make all of the school community feel connected," he said. "Every Friday and on field trips, we encourage staff and students to wear their Discovery t-shirts. Without these donations, there are many field trip experiences our students would not have had the opportunity to experience."