Oklahoma City is experiencing a growth spurt. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, its continued vitality relies on the next generation of diverse, skilled leaders. The Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation (OKCPSF) plays an important role in the region’s development by improving education opportunities for public school students.
The Foundation, which provides innovative classroom and school support, recruits and retains top urban-ready teachers, and builds partnerships with state and local leaders, serving a district of more than 34,000 students, many of whom come from low-income families.
Working directly with OKC public schools to bridge funding gaps, the Foundation applies resources to some of the district's greatest needs—providing reading programs, fulfilling teacher wish lists, and collecting funds to purchase school supplies and coats for students.
A love of reading inspires volunteer service
Brooke Johnson, Institutional Wealth relationship manager at BOK Financial®, serves on the Foundation's Young Professionals board of directors, YP4Kids, where she supports two literacy initiatives: Little Libraries and the ReadOKC On the Go! mobile book bus. By getting free books into young readers' hands, Johnson hopes to inspire OKC students to love learning and expand their worldviews.
"These students will be CEOs in 30 years," said Johnson. "Hopefully, the positive memories and opportunities we're providing now will give them the incentive to stay in OKC, where they'll contribute to our community as adults."
As a child, Johnson explored new worlds through books. Today she understands the advantages that being a strong reader has given her. She hopes her support for the OKCPSF literacy programs helps students advocate for themselves and their families.
"Many of our students face some sort of economic barrier," said Johnson. "The OKCPSF's literacy programs provide the skills to overcome those challenges and create equity for our city's young people."
Classic communication style creates new opportunities
BOK Financial Executive Assistant Renata Long also believes in the power of words to expand opportunities for students. Ten years ago, Long created the Pen Pals program in partnership with two OKC public schools. The program pairs third, fourth and fifth graders with BOK Financial and Bank of Oklahoma employee volunteers, to grow the students' literacy skills through letter writing.
Long got the idea for Pen Pals from her own experience as a third-grader writing to students in China. She believes letter writing can break down silos and open people’s minds. "When was the last time you wrote a letter or got to know someone through writing?" she asked. "I enjoy the art of writing and learning about people that are different from me, and I wanted that for our students."
Over the course of a school year, the program helps students practice their typing and reading skills. Long sees other benefits as well. As they correspond with their pen pal, students may learn about new career paths, get to know someone from a different culture, develop conversational skills or build confidence.
"There is something really powerful about having a person from outside your home telling you that you matter," said Long.
Since the program began, Pen Pals has matched 150 BOK Financial volunteers with 400 students from schools that are supported by the OKCPS Foundation.
In addition to volunteer time, BOK Financial is proud to provide the OKCPSF with financial support, funding grants for school supplies and musical instruments. We also sponsor several annual events, including T-Up for OKCPS, which promotes advocacy and awareness for the school district.
Learn more about Bank of Oklahoma's community involvement in their Community Report.