Greater Ravalli Foundation secures IBM workstations for six valley schools

By DAVID ERICKSON Ravalli Republic

The Greater Ravalli Foundation has partnered with the IBM Corporation to supply six Ravalli County school districts with reading computers, together worth more than $100,000, that are designed to greatly enhance literacy and math skills in young students.

Formed in 2002, the Greater Ravalli Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to serving educational needs in the Bitterroot Valley, according to its mission statement. Jim Cote, a co-chair of the foundation, said the idea to get the IBM “Young Explorers” computers came about through his talks with Mary Olsen, who is in charge of IBM’s educational programs in the western U.S.

“Mary Olsen is a trustee with me at the University of Montana, and she was very interested in what we were doing from an educational point of view,” he said. “We asked for two of these machines, but IBM was so impressed with what we have done with the other school districts that they called back and said, ‘Would you mind if we sent six?’ I’m blown away because these things are $15,000 to $20,000 apiece.”

The Darby, Victor, Hamilton, Corvallis, Stevensville and Florence school districts each received one of the machines.

“They are for reading and math,” Cote explained. “These systems are work stations. The kids come in and spend 10 minutes on it and rotate. The results, on a national basis, are overwhelming. There is an almost instantaneous increase in skills in reading. We will implement the math portion at another point in time.”

Cote said it took a concerted effort by many individuals to secure the machines.

“We had to go through a lot of hoops,” he explained. “Only because there are so many non-legitimate requests and foundations out there, the last thing IBM needs is bad press, someone saying that they are feeding some illegal group. It was a Herculean effort. These machines are very, very impressive. It’s a learning system they had worked on for years. As the kids spend their time on the reading unit, it significantly enhances their comprehension and the reading skills themselves. One person will be trained in each elementary school that would be responsible for getting all the kids through. There is a training module that we are putting them all through as we speak.”

Cote said the Greater Ravalli Foundation has contributed $2.5 million into the community over the last seven years.

“The foundation has given out millions of dollars in food and clothing and scholarships,” he said. “Our goal is to upgrade the educational systems in every one of the school districts, and try to bring them to a different standard. This is quite a contribution through the foundation. It clearly demonstrates the confluence of public, private and corporate to enhance the education in the valley. The board is comprised of a who’s-who of corporate America, and they have contributed significant amounts of time, energy and capital into the foundation.”

The foundation also just secured a $2 million endowment for scholarships, Cote explained.

“It’s an evergreen, long-lasting capital source that will carry us years and years in the future,” he said. “These scholarships go to kids that would never be going to college. It’s the biggest scholarship given in western Montana. Each scholarship is $4,000 a year, so basically it pays all tuition to a Montana public university or college. Nobody else comes close to that. We give between 10-15 each year, and one year we gave 20. We pay it for two years, and then we have a relationship with the university of Montana, with (UM President) Royce Engstrom, so that UM matches it for their junior and senior year if they do well. So basically the kids get a four-year scholarship to a Montana state school.”

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Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or