Chevron funds classroom projects in annual Fuel Your School program

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Kelly Fimbres’ classroom at Peres Elementary School bubbled with excitement on Tuesday morning. Fimbres was thrilled with the two iPad minis, and the iPod nano and iHome speaker dock that were gifted to her classroom. Her second graders were thrilled with Stomper, the Oakland A’s mascot who arrived in an oversized Chevron car to help deliver the goods.

“The kids were extremely excited,” Fimbres said, recounting the way Stomper snuck into the classroom and took the kids by surprise during class. “There was a lot of laughing.”

The supplies were donated courtesy of Chevron’s Fuel Your School program, a partnership with online charity site DonorsChoose.org to fund classroom projects in Contra Costa and Alameda County public schools. The program, now in its fifth year, is a win-win for both public schools and Chevron, supplying teachers with classroom items while building positive brand associations among schoolchildren and their families.

Throughout the month of October, Chevron donates $1 to fund a classroom project on DonorsChoose.org every time consumers buy eight gallons or more of fuel at participating Chevron or Texaco stations. Chevron donates up to $1 million total to Contra Costa and Alameda County schools annually through the program, with qualifying projects getting funded in the order they were received on DonorsChoose.org in September.

Chevron’s donation represents a significant chunk of change added to the $18.7 million budgeted by WCCUSD for books and supplies in the 2014-15 school year. While basic books and supplies are provided by the school district, Fimbres said, niceties like gardening tools and educational games usually come from donations or out of teachers’ own pockets.

Fimbres said she has gotten 69 projects funded on DonorsChoose.org, not all of them through the Fuel Your School program. Of her projects that Chevron has funded, donated supplies have included printer ink, toner cartridges and binders.

She said this year’s newly-gifted Apple products, which cost $983, will allow her students to access the Internet, use educational apps and games, listen to educational songs and take “little brain breaks and do little dances for two minutes with music.”

“We are lacking many everyday school supplies and many of my parents cannot afford to buy their child pencils, folders, binders, and other essential supplies for school,” Fimbres wrote on her DonorsChoose.org profile.

According to the profile, Fimbres’ students, 85 percent of whom are English language learners, receive free school breakfasts and lunches. Peres Elementary, which is located directly across the train tracks from the Chevron Richmond refinery, is categorized by DonorsChoose.org as being in the “highest poverty” level.

Chevron has a long history of funding educational initiatives in Richmond, and that funding has increased in recent years. The energy giant has promised $35 million to fund college scholarships over the next decade as part of the $90 million community benefits package attached to its Richmond refinery modernization project. According to Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie, Chevron also pours millions of dollars into other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education initiatives, including support for the Mathematics Achievement Academies and Richmond High School’s robotics program.

“Education, especially STEM education, is a major focus area for Chevron to invest in the community,” Ritchie said. “Fuel Your School is another way to get support to schools, and it raises Chevron’s visibility as well.”

Ritchie declined to disclose whether Fuel Your School has raised the profit margin for Chevron in past Octobers, citing business confidentiality. Fimbres said she encourages her students’ parents to fuel up at Chevron stations during October to fund DonorsChoose.org projects, and knows of several fellow teachers who do the same.

Since 2010, Fuel Your School has expanded into a national program that has helped fund more than 17,000 classroom projects at 3,200 K-12 public schools around the U.S., according to a Chevron press release. Chevron expects to provide up to $8.6 million this year.

“We’ve gotten so much from donors, we get folders, crayons, all sorts of stuff,” Fimbres said. “I’m just very fortunate and thankful for the help that we receive just to get the kids engaged and prepared.”

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