Education takes the cake: Edina Ed Fund hosts virtual event

Mia DiLorenzo, head staff writer

Since its conception in 1995, the Edina Education Fund has implemented education projects and diversified classroom learning opportunities aimed at increasing student participation. Over the past 25 years, the Ed Fund has provided grants to Edina High School’s Project Lead The Way, district-wide mental health services, and several student-led projects. The Ed Fund typically hosts a casual baking fundraiser, coined a “cake-off”, to raise money for their grant system; because of COVID-19, they are now hosting a fully virtual fundraiser.

Traditionally, the Ed Fund would reach out to local shops and bakeries who would provide professional cakes for the event. Attendees receive a voting token and choose their favorite cake of the selection, which then leads into silent and live auctions. Meadow Roberts, a Valley View student and finalist in Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship,” even hosted a cupcake decorating workshop at the last event. EHS teacher Jonathan Buckley has hosted the live auctions for the past several years, even bringing his public speaking class into the cake-off. “[Buckley] brought his whole third hour, students spread out onto tables, and answered questions about the high school and what type of impact the [Edina Education] fund was making there,” Ed Fund Chair Emeritus Regina Neville said. 

The impact of the Ed Fund can be seen throughout the district, within both classrooms and alternative learning spaces. One of the more topical examples is found at the elementary schools, with younger students already reaping the benefits of the Ed Fund’s programming. Concord Elementary School fourth grader and cake-off baker Zoe Francis-Jones has appreciated the Ed Fund’s work within her own school, finding alternative methods of learning to be just as educational as classroom instruction. “I like to play with the [Dash and Dot] robots, and in fifth grade I’m really excited to do the 3D printing,” Francis-Jones said.

Former School Board member and current Ed Fun Chair Emeritus Regina Neville notes the strong STEAM programming within the district, seeing firsthand how accessible education can open doors for students.  “I have three kids who have graduated from Edina Public Schools. When they went through [EHS], Project Lead the Way was just getting started—now two of my kids are engineers,” Neville said.

This year, the Ed Fund is diving into mental health support and trauma-informed responses. After the effects of the pandemic began to take its toll on many Edina families, volunteers felt it was necessary to work alongside community members to ensure mental health needs were being met. A district wide survey found that 40% to 70% of Edina families needed mental health assistance, a number that spurred the Ed Fund into action. “We’ve funded mental health and wellness from the very beginning, but what we’re trying to do now is [fund] a huge increase because it’s needed,” the Ed Fund’s Executive Director Kathy Rendleman said.

Those interested in supporting the Ed Fund’s efforts can sign up for their upcoming cake-off, a weeklong series of virtual events hosted by bakers and community leaders. “We have a tradition of excellence in education at EPS but we need community support to provide everything our students need, and our community has a great tradition of responding to that need,” Neville said.