Reflections from the Field: AEE 2017

I remember my first day as Development Director at Public Education Partners. It was a Wednesday; September 23, 2015 to be exact. As a recent Greenville transplant by way of Houston, I was nervous to begin this journey with a new organization in a new city. But, as a former 6th grade English teacher, I was excited to work with an organization that believed in being a true ally of public schools by supporting teachers and students.

In the office, Public Education Partners was a team of six, but I was about to find out just how far-reaching PEP’s influence truly was. The following Sunday after I started work was An Extracurricular Evening—PEP’S annual event to support and celebrate the community leaders, donors and partners that made the work possible. It was an exhilarating welcome not only to the organization, but also to the Greenville community.

I was blown away by this gathering of people so excited and invested in improving public schools. Hundreds of smiling faces welcomed me as if they’d known me their entire lives. Each of them eager to hear of my journey to Greenville and to learn more about my experiences teaching in Houston and growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.

I was afforded the opportunity to meet a collection of diverse PEP supporters all at once—principals, teachers, legislators, community volunteers, and the current and former superintendents of Greenville County Schools. I even met the former Governor of South Carolina! Each year since, I’ve looked forward to An Extracurricular Evening, a special Sunday in September—an event that is both like PEP’s first day of school and its homecoming.

Chances are if you didn’t see someone during the summer months, you’d see them at An Extracurricular Evening. There’s something comforting about devoting an entire evening to reconnecting with friends while enjoying delicious food and wine. It’s also a chance to truly celebrate the spirit of PEP.

With the arrival of the crisp morning air greeting me at daybreak, the changing color of leaves, and Starbucks selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes—fall is the perfect time to reconnect and reaffirm our mission. An Extracurricular Evening is a night of camaraderie, fellowship, and celebration in support of Greenville’s most important lever for community health and prosperity: our public schools.

One of the great things about An Extracurricular Evening (AEE) is the opportunity it gives for PEP to connect with the businesses of the greater Greenville community. From our venue to our food, everything for AEE is locally sponsored and provided by patrons of Greenville.

For example, this year, AEE was held at a fabulous new event space, Avenue; a change from the 16 years of being graciously hosted by Carl Sobocinski of Soby’s. Partygoers, both familiar and new, marveled at Avenue’s décor while enjoying scrumptious bites from Rick Erwin’s. The view of the sunset from the rooftop patio was breathtaking. The laughter and music was enough to sooth any troubled soul.

Along with our Board and staff, I had a wonderful time connecting with guests and sharing updates about the work PEP was doing. Nothing says true partnership like talking about summer student reading growth over a plate of delicious barbecue.

As we approached the end of the evening, our President and CEO Ansel Sanders thanked our community of over 350 guests and issued this challenge, “If you could wave your magic wand, what would great public education in Greenville look like? Tonight, and in the weeks to come, have a conversation about education. Let’s put our minds together and think about what Greenville could look like if we had the greatest education system in the nation.” That is the heart of An Extracurricular Evening. One fun night celebrating our partners that leads to years of impact for the students in Greenville County.

To our partners and attendees, thank you for connecting with Public Education Partners, year after year. The support you’ve given to students and teachers in our district cannot be overstated. The work that I’m able to do with my team and Board is only possible because of you. You choose to spend a Sunday with us, to listen to voices from classrooms throughout Greenville County. You’ve chosen to engage with us each school year for the past 32 years, and for this we are most grateful.

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