LA CROSSE, Wis. -- You can feel the excitement as these kids board the school bus for a field trip. But sometimes these trips can cost families money, and not every family has the means to pay.
"There are a lot of things that we take for granted that are so important to be able to have a kid be able to learn when they're at school," said Steve Michaels, Hamilton/SOTA I principal.
Field Trips are one of those things.
Hamilton has the highest poverty rate in the district with 80 percent of the students receiving free and reduced lunch. Michael’s knows first-hand how many students are in need of the basics just to be able to start the day off on the right foot and ready to learn. With budgets tight at home and within the school district, a fund called Random Acts of Kindness is lending a helping hand.
"We have a number of families who are temporarily homeless, and those people don't have the ability to wash clothes," said Michaels. "So, we have an arrangement with a laundromat and that fund helps those kids and those families do laundry once or twice a week so that their kids can come ready for school."
The fund has also helped pay for things like warm clothes, lunches, instrument rentals, and many other basic needs. The school social worker says she has had to use the random acts of kindness fund quite often in the last 6 weeks.
"This year at Hamilton, I would say almost every other day. It's been a year where our needs are huge here. So, it's been very helpful," said Stephanie Mancuso, Hamilton and Hintgen school social worker.
The executive director of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation Geva Thole says the need for financial assistance has grown across the district.
"It started last year when you heard about a lot of families or the parents of children getting laid off from their jobs," said Thole. "So, I noticed an increase of the use of funds last year. And I think it's held steady for this year. We haven't seen a decline yet."
Each year, the La Crosse Public Education Foundation puts $20,000 into the Random Acts of Kindness Fund to help families who need financial support throughout the district.
"Sometimes parents just have a little bump in the road and their kids might need a little bit of help to cover the cost of a field trip or a college entrance exam fee," said Thole. "Other times, families are living in poverty and I think this fund really levels the playing field for those students, and might even help contribute to breaking the cycle of that generational poverty."
Because without the money to pay for band lessons, the class field trip, or a pair of glasses to see the white board at the front of the class, many of these students would be left at a disadvantage.
"Because of the generosity of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation, and those who contribute to that, a lot of our students here, who live in poverty, are able to have some of the same experiences that every other kid can have," said Michaels.
And for that opportunity, Mr. Michaels is grateful for the Random Acts of Kindness Fund and the community members who support it.
"I'm not a real emotional person, but I really get choked up when I think about this," said Michaels, "but I would say thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I would invite them to come to our school. Come in and take a look at some of your contributions and what they're doing for some of our kids in our classrooms. I think when they take a look they'll be pleasantly surprised."