Chester School of the Arts Awarded $500,000 Challenge Grant

Nancy Nicely

Chester School of the Arts
Awarded $500,000 Challenge Grant

The school must raise an additional $500,000 by March 31, 2008 to receive grant

The Chester School of the Arts has received a $500,000 challenge grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation, Inc. to fund the first year of operations. The School's doors will open in the city of Chester in September of 2008 with a total of 90 students in grades pre-K through first. Current plans call for a grade to be added in each subsequent year through grade 12. In order to receive the grant, the School must secure additional cash or pledges totaling at least $500,000 by March 31, 2008.


 

The founding head of school is John Alston (above), an associate professor of music at Swarthmore College who founded the Chester Children's Chorus in 1993 and continues as its director. The School's board chairman is Swarthmore College Vice President Maurice Eldridge '61. Both men are devoting time to this exciting project as educators and private citizens, not as representatives of the College.

"The million-dollar total generated by the Sunshine Lady Foundation grant will kick-start the awareness and fundraising momentum for the first year, and also help us expand the circle of friends and build the bases of support that will be needed to sustain the School going forward," Alston said.  "We are enormously grateful to Doris Buffett and the members of the Foundation board."

Doris Buffett, sister of well-known businessman Warren Buffett, is founder and president of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, a major part of whose mission is "to invest in organizations and programs dedicated to providing opportunities for the advancement of education, well being and new life choices for disadvantaged people with special empathy for the working poor and families in crisis." Since its inception in 1996, the Sunshine Lady Foundation has awarded over $50 million in grants.

Since its formation in February of 2005, the Board of Trustees of the Chester School of the Arts has been engaged in pre-operational planning and raising the funds needed to pay for this groundwork. The school design combines a rigorous academic curriculum with intensive arts immersion. Numerous studies have found that children who have an intense exposure to the arts are more successful and more creative in school and later in life.

In its 14 years, the Chester Children's Chorus has grown from 7 boys to 76 boys and girls, ages 8 to 16. The Chorus, which remains part of Swarthmore College, is a year-round program with rehearsals at the College and performances both in the College's Lang Concert Hall and in Chester. During an intensive five-week Summer Learning Program, the children study music, reading, science, art, and African dance and drumming. The Chorus is expected to double in size over the next five years and will continue to serve children from all schools in the Chester-Upland School District, including the Chester School of the Arts. While synergies between the organizations are anticipated, there are currently no plans to merge the Chester Children's Chorus and the Chester School of the Arts.

"It is important that people understand that the Chester School of the Arts is an entirely independent enterprise that will be located in Chester and serve families who can afford to pay little or no tuition," Eldridge says.  "Ultimately, we envision establishing an endowment to fund the school's operating expenses. For the first few years, the school will depend on major gift philanthropy from individuals, corporations and foundations."