Skip To Main Content

Redwood City Education Foundation Shifts its Focus. “We want to echo a voice of equity,” says executive director

As a fifth grade student sits before her Chromebook and carefully places her headphones on, her smile grows wide when she greets a familiar face from school. Her counselor is on screen and waiting to talk about her successes and challenges of the previous week.

Counseling support is just one of the many initiatives funded by Redwood City Education Foundation, or RCEF, and is gaining momentum among Redwood City School District (RCSD) students.

Founded in 1983, the Foundation has raised funds for supplies, STEAM tools, music programs, and much more in its nearly forty years of community-based assistance for all Redwood City students.

The Foundation aims to affect change through financial support, advocacy, and community engagement.

RCEF has recently fine-tuned its mission to focus on the most vulnerable and underserved students in the Redwood City School District community, said Foundation executive director Jason Galisatus.

Fundraising efforts and programs are concentrated to support those eligible for the national free and reduced price lunch program, those who are unhoused, students with special needs, those who have recently emigrated, and English language learners.

“There’s a greater level of need in some schools—we want to elevate those parent and family voices,” he said. “We want to echo a voice of equity.”

Using a strategy-based framework, RCEF looks out at goals for longer-term outcomes such as high school readiness, and then works its way backward to make choices about initiative ideas and planning. This also affords the Foundation room to grow and branch out its efforts in different ways, such as counseling services.

RCEF was able to pilot a successful program at Garfield Community School that provided for a therapist from One Life Counseling to be on-site to help students during the school week. That program, along with much needed supplies, has since expanded to Taft and Hoover schools and will support about 1,700 students at these three schools.

The goal is to grow and expand--and acquire more funding--so that every underserved student in RCSD can receive the lift they may need. Schools with the largest free and reduced lunch eligibility will be focused on as the programs start.

“Mental health, counseling and social emotional health is part of our three pillars,” said Galisatus, adding that these things certainly impact academic growth.

When school shifted to a Distance Learning period amidst the Covid-19 crisis, the counseling program adapted to a virtual setting too.

“With Covid happening and families facing dire situations, they were understandably stressed,” he said. “We felt it was so important (that students have access to counseling). We knew it was going to be a large and growing need.”

Counseling support and supplies such as noise cancelling headphones became top priority for RCEF and its Back-to-School Campaign as school started in a Distance Learning period.

Those resources have been invaluable, said Lupe Torres-Khalil, principal at Garfield Community School.

“(Headphones) provide the space for focus,” she said. “It’s easy for students to get distracted and when you have you’re headset on you’re at school. We want students to have that sense of personal connection.”

Torres-Khalil added that using the headsets for counseling allows students to focus on themselves and the therapist.

Social, emotional, physical and intellectual health and growth are all equally important, she said, so the counseling services funded by RCEF have become a part of school culture. Counselors are another friendly, trusted adult on campus and are part of the school family, added Torres-Khalil.

“It’s important that it’s been normalized,” she said. “The idea is that when we go to school it is not just reading and writing—we are growing socially and emotionally too.”

A generous community makes previous purchases like Chromebooks, counseling services, and the Back-to-School campaign possible, Galisatus said. He added that RCEF received donations from across the Bay Area and even other parts of the world.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the response,” he said. “This was critical support that was needed.”

One major funder is local resident Mike Harlow, owner of Premia Capital. Harlow was introduced to the work that RCEF does while working with other youth-focused organizations.

“We’re a developer and we’re trying to get more money back into the community,” said Harlow.  Harlow has worked with PAL Redwood City for more than 15 years, helping to fund more than 22 youth sports teams that many students are members of, and now has become RCEF’s single largest funder in a year.

“There’s wealth here but there’s also a lot of people struggling,” he said.

When he met Galisatus, he wanted to help in a big way and help get it done fast.

“In these times, we really have to look out for people,” he said. “That gap has been continuing for years. There’s a risk for families—the gap could get bigger.”

A goal to fundraise enough to support thousands of underserved students across Redwood City School District in the areas of social-emotional support, technology and more may seem like an overwhelming task but Galisatus said he has been continually excited about the encouragement RCEF receives.

“We’re fortunate to live in a community that cares about our most vulnerable populations of students.”

To learn more about Redwood City Education Foundation or to make a donation visit