Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

August 19, 2013

JEF “Evening With Our Stars” honors local standouts

JACKSONVILLE — The generosity of the Jacksonville Education Foundation has helped to make learning an ongoing event in their lives, two women told a crowd gathered at The Castle on The Lake during a Thursday mixer that served as JEF's campaign kick-off.

The recipient of the JEF Salutatorian scholarship, 2010 JHS graduate Mikaela Villavisencio recalled how the announcement of the bequest surprised her, because it was not expected.

On track to graduate college with a degree in aerospace engineering in December 2014, the young woman assured JEF supporters, “this scholarship has been a huge help (in my) getting college degree.

“I hope this scholarship will continue for a long time so that some other student really appreciated for their academic accomplishment is getting some financial aid” to help them realize their goals, she added.

East Side Elementary educator Rhonda Parker described how a $1,000 foundation grant awarded last year for a Reading Garden on the campus was learning experience in and of itself for students who put the project together.

“They researched everything from the planting zone, the angle of the sunlight throughout the school year and all these different things,” she said. “The children had a wonderful opportunity to go before our superintendent and our board and present what they had (discovered) … they were so excited.”

Best of all, she added, future generations of students will benefit from the innovative project.

“It is a project that will continue; it didn’t just end when we finished the (project) – it’s going to go on. It really did plant a seed in our students; an interest in nature, a place to go outside to read and write and listen … (this) outdoor classroom really expands their opportunity to learn,” Parker said.

The mixer – “Evening with Our Stars” – honored JHS Accomplished Alumna Sissy Phillips Austin and JISD basketball coach John Alexander, who are serving as co-chairs for the foundation's membership drive.

They also were to address the crowd gathered at Friday's convocation at the new JISD Gymnasium, located on the former Lon Morris College campus.

“John will probably talk about basketball, and I’ll probably talk about how I caught (husband) Jeff,” Austin quipped during the mixer.

Smiling, Alexander said he and Austin are “proud of our schools. And we're proud of what the foundation does for our schools and we’re proud of all these people that take interest in education.”

JEF's mission is “to support academic excellence in Jacksonville public schools through a variety of scholarship and classroom grant programs,” according to foundation mission statement.

Also during the mixer, Austin's husband Jeff shared a letter from fellow alum Margo Martindale, last year's foundation “Star” who is now a successful actress. She and Austin grew up together, with Martindale describing her “generosity and faithfulness as a friend.”

“I’m not sure she knows this, but her wisdom and example have guided me through challenges and decisions in my life,” Martindale wrote, thanking Austin “from the bottom of my heart for all these years of abiding friendship. Sissy, you are and always will be, my most Influential Indian.”

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