Education Foundation of Sarasota County: Technology and Innovation Initiatives

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County, Florida invests in innovative programs and initiatives that enrich

the learning experience for countless students and teachers. Technology and Innovation are integrated into each of

our initiatives and have evolved through the years to adapt to 21st-century education demands and help prepare

Sarasota County students for college, careers and beyond.


The mission of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County is to enhance the potential of students, promote excellence in teaching, and inspire innovation in education, guided by strategic philanthropy. The Education Foundation of Sarasota County was established in 1988 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, in support of public education and independent of Sarasota County Schools. Since inception, the Education Foundation has served 43,000 students in 53 public schools and supported 5,000 instructional staff and support personnel through innovative programs and activities. 

Innovation in Education: A new vision

Inspiring innovation requires stepping up as the early adopter of ground-breaking trends and emerging developments. The Education Foundation is revamping initiatives that: inspire excellence in teaching, encourage innovation, and expand college and career resources by deploying more resources to support our teachers and schools, awarding classroom and school-wide grants to Sarasota County Schools; and supporting collaborative professional development programs.

Technology and Innovation Initiatives

By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer-related jobs but only 400,000 graduates to fill them. The harsh reality in Sarasota County is that over 52% of our students receive subsidized meal benefits and don’t have the means to access technology training beyond the basic classes offered in schools. Without access to more advanced training, Sarasota County students in need could miss out on the opportunity to bridge the technology job gap and earn better salaries.  To help prepare students for post-secondary success, the Education Foundation actively invests in programs that promote innovation and increases student awareness, expertise and the desire to pursue technology driven jobs. Those programs include Digital Learning Labs and Innovation Hubs, the annual #SRQHacks Hackathon, training courses in cybersecurity and other high demand tech jobs, a grants program that supports innovative classrooms, STEM education and competitions, and professional development so teachers are on the cutting-edge of technology education.

Home Computer Program

The Home Computer Program was launched in the spring of 2007, inspired by a single teacher who was rebuilding computers in his garage for children in need. He realized students without computers at home were falling further and further behind their classmates. They couldn’t complete homework, research projects, or even check their school websites. How were they ever going to gain the skills they needed to succeed in the classroom and 21st-century workplace?


Personal Technology Program

In collaboration with Sarasota County Schools and with the support of several generous investors, the Education Foundation took that teacher’s vision county-wide and began the Personal Technology Program. Through the program, qualified students and their families complete a digital literacy training course and receive a refurbished computer and access to low-cost internet. The Personal Technology Program was just the start of the Education Foundation’s venture to ensure Sarasota County students are empowered with the technology and skills they need to be successful in today’s classroom and workplace. It is now integrated into and managed by Sarasota County Schools allowing the Education Foundation to support and pilot other initiatives.


Digital Learning Labs 

The Education Foundation recognized that home computers were not the answer for every child or family. It developed Digital Learning Labs (DLLs) aimed at providing students and their parents participating in after-care programs access to technology and innovative digital courses that meet learning needs and expand critical thinking. The labs are developed in partnership with youth-serving organizations, such as Girls Inc. and Sarasota County Schools, which focus on students who are identified as eligible for free and reduced meals and academically at-risk.


Innovation Hubs

In the 2017-18 academic year, seven DLL locations will be expanded, elevating the computer labs to “Innovation Hubs” through increased hands-on courses such as Coding, 3D Printing, and Introduction to Drones and Robotics. The 7 labs slated to become Innovation Hubs are in some of the highest need areas of Sarasota County and will serve students in exciting new ways.  Additionally, the Education Foundation provides workforce development and leadership opportunities for high school students, who provide support at select DLLs and Innovation Hubs throughout Sarasota County. 


#SRQHacks Hackathon

The #SRQHacks Hackathon is an intense, collaborative coding and business plan experience that joins nearly 100 middle and high school students, ages 13-18 with approximately 40 talented community mentors for an annual weekend-long event.  Each team’s goal is to create an app or website that could potentially solve a community issue that the team brainstorms and designs within an overall theme. Students are also charged with the challenge of presenting their concepts and apps both orally and visually in front of a very large audience composed of all Hackathon participants, judges, family, and members of the community.

The Hackathon helps bridge the technology gap for underserved students by connecting each team with three mentors, who use their particular expertise to work with students to think outside the box and begin creating the best app possible during the accelerated timeframe. Each mentor falls in one of three categories: Developer (programmers, engineers, computer science professionals), Designer (front end developer or graphic designer), and Innovator (educator, business person, problem solver).  Students develop invaluable relationships with mentors that often transcend the 3-day event.



2016 theme: Addressing Community Issues

Prior to the inaugural #SRQHacks Hackathon, community leaders, students and citizens gathered together for the #SRQHacks Town Hall. SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence) facilitated the Town Hall, presenting attendees with a format to discuss, determine and vote on the local community’s most pressing issues. SCOPE and the Education Foundation further narrowed down the issues to five tracks which student and mentor Hackathon teams could choose. The five tracks were Safety & Security, Youth Engagement, Health & Wellness, Prejudice and Education. Students and mentors were teamed up at the Hackathon and tasked to create technological applications that could positively impact one of the issues presented.

Town Hall video:

2016 Hackathon videos:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

2017 theme: Hack Your Education

In an effort to better connect the #SRQHacks Hackathon to the mission of the Education Foundation, the Task Force voted on an education-centric theme for the second annual Hackathon. Students and mentors were teamed up at the Hackathon and tasked to create technological applications designed to advance student learning. Whether specific to a certain area that hinders learning (i.e. bullying) or general (i.e. college and career readiness), teams were free to create any app that positively impacts their educational experience.


At the 2nd annual Hackathon in October 2017 held in the Ringling School of Design, a prestigious venue, the winning team was invited to present their app concept at a symposium on transportation hosted by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, SRQ Media, and Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

2017 Hackathon video:

More links: Cheering #SRQHacks

*The #SRQHacks project plan can be shared upon request by contacting


CyberCamp Program

In July 2017 the Education Foundation was selected to participate in the 2017 season of the Air Force Association’s (AFA) CyberCamp Program.  Around 60 Sarasota County middle and high school students participated in the inaugural CyberCamp, hosted in partnership with Riverview High School and Sylint Group, an international cybersecurity firm. The camp included hands-on opportunities for the students to learn cyber safety, cyber ethics, and critical network security skills. Each AFA CyberCamp culminates in an exciting team-based competition that puts the campers in the role of IT administrators tasked with finding and addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in simulated network environments.  Tech training programs such as CyberCamp help to expose and engage students with rapidly expanding technology careers that have a shortage of qualified employees. 


STEM Fair 

Each spring approximately 800 students in grades 3-12 have an opportunity to showcase their STEM skills through participation in the annual county-wide STEM Fair.  Sarasota County students submit projects ranging in categories such as Life Science, Biomedical and Health Sciences, and Engineering.  Community volunteers participate in judging the projects, and the top middle and high school finalists move on to compete at the State Science Fair.

STEMSmart Summit

The STEMSmart Summit is a one day, project based competition, for approximately 75 middle and 250 high school students enrolled in Career Technical Education (CTE) courses in Sarasota County.  Originally founded by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, this program provides teams of students an opportunity to compete in a cross-section of STEM focused categories including health care, web and logo design, 3D CAD design, engineering design and STEM business plan creation.  The STEMSmart Summit not only tests students’ technical skills but provides experience with real-world interactions they might encounter in future STEM careers.  Dozens of volunteer judges from the local business and education communities evaluate students’ performances, providing constructive feedback and an opportunity for mentoring in their field of expertise.

The sky’s the limit as Sarasota County students advance through school, regional and state STEM-related competitions. As students earn awards locally, they are encouraged to set their sights on national and international competitions, such as Intel State and Intel National Championships and VEX Competitions. When Sarasota County students showcase their innovations on a national or global stage, they raise the profile of the entire Sarasota community.

Professional Development

Sarasota County Schools’ educators need support and training to make the most of digital resources that can take their classrooms to the next level.  In 14% of schools in Florida, more than half the teachers are beginners when it comes to using technology.  The Education Foundation provides innovative professional development opportunities, so teachers are at the forefront of technology education.  Pilot "Train the Trainer" courses preparing teachers to offer AP Computer Science courses in their schools are currently underway.  When high-quality teaching and learning is in place, student achievement improves and student engagement soars. 

Other Programs of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County  

EducateSRQ Grants Program

EducateSRQ classroom and school-wide grants, the Education Foundation’s signature program for over 25 years, provides teachers and schools with funds to support innovative projects that: enhance academic curriculum; expose K-12 students to a broad range of learning opportunities; provide awareness of the community, and prepare students for 21st century careers.  EducateSRQ grant applications are open to K-12 Sarasota County educators and schools every academic year. Classroom grants up to $1,000 provide support to individual classrooms through hands-on projects covering a variety of subject areas including experiential field trips. School-wide grants up to $10,000 support projects that advance the goals of an entire school and may align with their School Improvement Plan (SIPs).  Grant applications are reviewed and scored by 100-150 community volunteers

The EducateSRQ Grants Program impacts approximately 20,000 Sarasota County students every year.  Educators, who have implemented grants in previous years, report increases in student achievement and improvement in behavior, measured by an increase in attendance, improved testing results, higher quality of homework and classwork, and an increase in self-esteem and self-confidence.  Although Sarasota County is a community that boasts a wealth of art, history and science institutions, many students have never visited a museum or a nature park, attended a play, or investigated bays and beaches.  Engaging experiences motivate children to learn, improves performance in core academic subjects, and build essential skills.  The EducateSRQ grants program is an opportunity for educators to provide students with unique learning opportunities that go beyond the traditional classroom experience. Thanks to generous donors, the Education Foundation has awarded over $3 million for more than 4,000 classroom grants, opening new horizons for thousands of students over the years.

College and Career Readiness

The Education Foundation is committed to empowering students to graduate with purpose and be prepared to pursue a post-secondary pathway. Each of our programs are designed to uniquely support students with this end goal in mind. Our increased focus on preparing students from kindergarten through high school for college and future careers aligns with the Sarasota County School district’s goals and the community’s need.

According to a report by the Education Trust (2016), 47% of high school students are not college or career ready upon graduation, and 90% have failed to take appropriate coursework to adequately prepare them for a college experience and careers. Regardless of their academic strengths and achievements, students need guidance and planning tools. In spring 2017, the Education Foundation opened Sarasota County’s 1st middle school College & Career Center, “The Cube,” at Booker Middle School.  Shortly thereafter, Sarasota County Schools launched the “Middle School College and Career Readiness Project.” Career Advisors were hired and placed in each middle school in Sarasota County. Naviance, a comprehensive online college and career navigation tool and software, purchased by the Education Foundation, was adapted for use at each middle school. 

In 2017-18, the Education Foundation is focusing on the establishment of comprehensive and accessible College & Career Centers at Riverview and North Port High Schools. Each center will serve as a hub for students to develop a well-defined college and/or career plans, to understand the correlation between their coursework and aspirations, and to fully utilize college and career readiness resources to enhance their success.

Recommendations for Technology and Innovation Initiatives

The Education Foundation is an independent philanthropic organization that works in partnership with our school district allowing us to pilot new innovative programs both in the classroom as well as providing extra-curricular opportunities for our students.  When it comes to technology and innovation programs we are able to connect directly with the teachers and school administrators to better understand the needs of our students so we can thoughtfully seek out new ideas and student engagement opportunities.  As a local philanthropic organization, we have formed strong relationships with local companies and industry leaders in the fields of technology and innovation, we utilize these relationships to help us successfully implement new programs by partnering with professionals to serve on task forces for planning, to act as mentors during the program and to engage with after any program to see how we can improve our efforts.

Whether the technology and innovation initiative is in the form of innovative teacher grants, district-wide programs like the STEM Fair, summer Cyber Security programs or events like our annual Hackathon, we are most successful when we can collaborate with both our school district leadership and our community relationships.  These strong connections, for us, are the key to our success. 

We recommend any organization looking to implement technology and innovation programs with school-aged children, to form a strong relationship with their school district administration as well as within their community to provide the best well-supported program possible for the end user, the student.  It has been our experience that when your local business community in involved, all parties rise up to make the biggest impact possible for the future leaders, especially in the field of technology and innovation.


Contact Information:

Education Foundation of Sarasota County

Kati Burns, Program & Relationship Manager

1960 Landings Blvd #120

Sarasota, Florida 34231

(941) 927-0965