The Coronavirus pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another.
Some of those hardest hit have been children. Throughout Colorado, grade-school children have been forced to cope in a 'new normal' in education, complete with virtual classrooms, augmented teaching schedules, and even significantly reduced school meal programs.
Needless to say, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has been working overtime to manage 'controlled chaos' in a post-COVID-19 world. When Denver-area philanthropist Marty Erzinger learned about what the Denver School of Science and Technology wanted to do to help public school students in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, he knew he had to take action.
Marty attended public schools growing up and had a working mom. He was one of five kids, and his mother prepared lunches for him every morning before she went to work. Over time, Marty learned that he was lucky to have the luxury of daily, homemade meals, as some of the other students were not so fortunate.
Considering what Denver public school students were facing in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, Marty took the initiative and became instrumental in helping DSST achieve its goals.
About DSST and the DSST Foundation
The Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) Public Schools (a non-union organization under DPS) operates open enrollment STEM charter schools within Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools. The school currently serves over 6,300 students across nine middle schools and six high schools in Denver and Aurora, Colorado.
When the Coronavirus outbreak forced the closure of Denver-area schools, the faculty, administration, and other staff were blindsided, and they knew they needed to adapt in order to keep students engaged and learning.
But, resources were wearing thin. Budgets for developing much-needed online education resources were nonexistent.
This was when the DSST Foundation stepped in with Martin Erzinger and others' support.
The DSST Foundation is a separate 501(c)3 organization established to assist Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) in the implementation of its mission and to assist in the transformation of urban public education by eliminating educational inequality and assisting in the preparation of all students for success in college and the 21st century.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the DSST Foundation enacted four bold, new initiatives to address students needs:
- E-School. The DSST e-School solution would give students a unified online platform to transition to as they began quarantining.
- Project: Create. A state-wide program aimed at engaging K-12 students and providing a supplement to online learning curriculum.
- The COVID-19 Family Relief Fund. This fund would provide rent assistance and meal delivery service for families in need.
- Development of the Flyer App. A mobile app that fosters family communication throughout the DSST network of education professionals.
None of this would have been possible were it not for the philanthropic giving on the part of Marty Erzinger and donors like him.
Thankfully, DSST and the DSST Foundation were able to come together and provide the tools and resources necessary to bridge the gap between traditional, in-class education and post-COVID-19 virtual education.
Not only that, but as much as 80% of DSST students were facing significantly reduced school lunch provisions. For many of these students, school lunch is the only meal they get. With the financial assistance provided by Martin Erzinger, the DSST Foundation was able to ensure that 100% of DSST students who needed school lunches got them.
This was an incredible win by any measure.
For these achievements in the face of such chaotic adversity, the DSST Foundation has been recognized by the Denver Post and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Recently, we sat down with Martin "Marty" Erzinger to learn more about his role in assisting Colorado kids.
Q and A with Marty Erzinger
How did you get involved with DSST?
Marty: "Peter Fritzinger is a very close friend of mine. He was a retired CFO of a company called Verio, and after Verio was sold out, he started getting involved with DSST and then went on the board. Peter then recruited by Steve Halstead, the founder of Centennial Funds, one of the oldest and most successful venture capital firms."
"Steve got Peter and others involved with the endowment committee and I was part of it. We had been previous donors and charity supporters up to then, but we became a member of the endowment committee through Peter about two years ago. I also do pro bono work and provide investment analytics services to them at no cost."
What about the DSST Foundation motivated you to donate?
Marty: "We were really touched by the recent number of kids that would not have meals for lunch, which might be their only meal of the day. With COVID, these kids had no other way of eating. 80% of kids were not going to receive lunches after COVID, and after this round of donations, meal delivery and other means took care of every child. I really felt like we were reaching the people who needed to be reached."
How much did you donate?
"My wife Suzie and I were able to provide a four-figure gift."
How important do you find the role of DSST in the lives of our young people?
Marty: "I've seen first-person in the classroom how effective the DSST teachers can be in the environment that they create. With this new Project: Create program, their weekly school meetings with the kids involve checks and balances of disciplinary action, and you have to stand up and apologize to the group if you've done something deemed unacceptable."
"At 12 years old, that's a big deal. There's an element of accountability there, and there are abundant opportunities for tutoring, coaching, and time management education that is subject-specific."
The results are so good because they've created a new structure that is dynamic and transformative. The graduation rate is 100% for the same kids in the same neighborhoods that we've heard so many negative things about. But, DSST has created a structure that empowers students and enables them to succeed."
Where would you like to see the foundation focus its efforts next?
Marty: "I'd like to continue our success in development and continue to tell the DSST Foundation story. We don't have the recognition we deserve as an institution with major donors yet. I think the endowment could be a big part of that.
Do you plan on making any future donations to DSST?
Marty: "Yes, we plan on being sustained donors for the foreseeable future."
Martin "Marty" Erzinger owns and operates Sanctuary Advisors, a Denver-based wealth management consultancy.