Jayda Sommers Is Relishing Her Time as Avon Education Foundation Executive Director
Writer / Melissa Gibson
Jayda Sommers has been working in the school system for decades, first as a teacher in Wayne Township, then as a stay-at-home mom turned classroom volunteer, parent-teacher organization member and more.
“We moved to Avon in 1999 and Avon High School had just opened up,” Sommers said. “It was a growing community and we wanted to be a part of it. Once we started our family, I stayed at home with our kids but still wanted to use my skills for good. I continued volunteering in the reading and math groups, but once the kids hit middle school and high school, there were less opportunities there.”
That’s when Sommers joined the Avon Education Foundation (AEF) board and began helping to raise funds for the school system and advocating for teachers.
“I’ve been an educator and fully understand what they need and where the barriers are, so I interviewed for the executive director position, and shared my vision and where I could benefit the organization,” Sommers said.
She got the job and started in her new position in early August.
Perhaps what makes Sommers unique is her experience in a teacher’s shoes.
“I don’t have a business background,” she said. “I’m an educator, so when I go out to talk to our partners, I’m really wearing that teacher’s hat and educating them about what we’re doing and where we’re going and how they can help us get there.”
The AEF exists to support teachers in their effort to offer creativity, innovation and excellence in the classroom. The nonprofit hosts fundraisers and partners with local businesses, putting those funds back into the school through grants and other community activities.
One of her goals in 2024 is to continue funding and improving AEF’s three largest programs throughout the year.
Supply It Forward is a school supply shopping experience for the nearly 50% of students on the free and reduced lunch program. Volunteers purchase and donate school supplies for students to “shop” for what they need.
“I love that they get the experience of shopping,” Sommers said. “In 2023 we had 842 students come through and shop for backpacks and school supplies, down to the color of folders they select and the pencils they like. Each backpack is worth $60 to $75. They also have access to community resources like our Mary Lee Maier food pantry information and the multilingual program. This year we had Vaccinate Indiana come out and administer vaccines to students and parents who needed them.”
Registration is expected to start just after spring break this year.
The Supply Our Schools program is a second initiative supported by the AEF. Think of it as a store for teachers, filled with notebooks, highlighters, pencils and pens.
In addition to providing donated supplies to teachers’ classrooms, dozens of special-education students in the work-study class use the program to gain valuable job skills for potential future employment.
“It’s estimated teachers spend $600 out of their pockets on supplies for their classrooms each year,” Sommers said. “We stock school supplies in the store and our work-study interns fill those orders and deliver them to the school.”
Finally, the Helping Hands grants allow educators to apply for additional funds to go toward opportunities in the classroom that wouldn’t normally be covered by the school budget.
Many of the Helping Hands grant applications feature STEM, intervention and extension qualities, and include items like sensory stations, science magazine subscriptions, and special tours and opportunities for field trips.
“In 2024 we as a board decided we wanted to add additional grant cycles,” Sommers said. “We’ve done two in the past and hope to do three this school year. Who knows? With more opportunity and funding, we might be able to add a fourth one in the future.”
Sommers said the community is always open and willing to help. However, sometimes knowing what or how is the issue.
The largest fundraiser of the year hosted by AEF is Monte Carlo night. Purchase a ticket for an evening of casino games, dinner, raffle prizes and a silent auction – and while having fun, attendees know they are giving to a good cause. This year, Monte Carlo Night will be held on April 27.
Another fundraiser through AEF is Honor an Educator. Each year, parents have the opportunity to donate $10 or more for a special sign featuring their teacher’s name and a note of thankfulness and encouragement.
“We have such fabulous teachers here and our board and volunteers write the parents’ message on the back of a yard sign to post in front of the school,” Sommers said. “The project is a big undertaking, but it’s visual and shows just how thankful we are for our teachers. In addition, those funds go back into the Helping Hands grant pool.”
While Sommers and the AEF board continue to think of new ideas and ways to connect to the community, they’re grateful for the partnerships they have today.
“I’d love to see an event where we thank our sponsors,” Sommers said. “We’ve had those over the years and they’ve come and gone. I’ve said it a million times; strong communities are built through our schools. Education is a vehicle for a better future, not just for the kids, but for all of us. I’m just so glad to be a part of this.”
For more information, visit avoneducationfoundation.org, and ‘like’ the AEF Facebook page for current and upcoming events.