Costs for a high school student can easily add up, with fees for clubs or sports, plus more for AP classes, graduation fees and dance costs. Families might not realize the “sticker price” of enrollment at Vestavia High School can be higher than it might appear. But the school also wants to make sure a student doesn’t decide not to participate in an activity due to financial concerns. That’s where a new program, Rebels Helping Rebels, comes into play. To learn more about it, we chatted with the school faculty and staff who have organized it: Michael Sinnott, Emily Bedgood, Faith Lenhart and Lisa Greer.
How did the idea for Rebels Helping Rebels come from?
Faith: It started from an equity and diversity committee two years ago, and we wanted to run with a financial assistance program. We did research about how much it costs to participate in activities here.
Emily: Retrieving data was our job for like a year. I looked at different fees, to go to prom and participate in different activities. I took some sample students from all demographics and looked at their schedules. I looked at how much it would cost to take all their classes and be involved. We wanted to get an idea of how many students would need help with that cost and make sure they are participating without limits.
Michael: One thing we realized is a lot of the programs people are in, whether it’s choir or dance, already had mechanisms in place for financial support, but they weren’t always as transparent. This is a way to be transparent and say, “If you need something, we can help meet that need.”
The program launched this fall at student registration. How did that go?
Emily: We were fortunate we got a lot donated for this program at the beginning of the year when we released it; now the challenge is for people know how to request money and that it’s confidential. We want the kids and families to understand that it’s out there.
Faith: Every month Lisa emails me a list of everyone who made a donation and the amount, and we send them a tax deduction letter. If they donate $100 or more, they get a car decal with our logo on them that we mail to them.
It started as a high school thing, and then I met with employees at the Central Office and our social worker. After our conversation, we realized need to start it at the middle school when all of this starts. We have printed flyers for every classroom 6-12.
Why do you think this program was important to start?
Emily: For me being involved with this was more personal. I graduated from here and grew up in Vestavia, but my parents were very lower middle class. We lived in a town house. My dad was an electrician, and my mom cleaned houses. Growing up I was very involved in choir and theatre and wanted to go on trips. I never went without, but I know my parents struggled. I was one of those who could have benefitted from this program.
Lisa: And you might not have said anything to your parents because you thought they couldn’t afford it. If you know this program is here, children could communicate more since it’s in confidence.
How have you seen financial generosity in the school?
Lisa: As a bookkeeper I see there are a lot of parents here who make anonymous donations. People are not here to be seen. I see the donation checks come in, and they say, “I don’t want anyone to know about this.” We have had an enormous amount of donations at the school this year in proportion to what we’ve had before because people know there is a need. I think this is an opportunity for the whole community to change. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive or where your home is. It’s about the children and giving everyone the same opportunity.
Where did the name come from?
Faith: The first name of it was the Grace Account, but I went to our principal Dr. Tyler Burgess’s office and said, “What do we call this?” And he said, “What about Rebels Helping Rebels?”
Lucy: Because that’s what it is. If you are not a Rebel when you come where you will be before you leave.
To make a tax-deductible donation to Rebels Helping Rebels, visit vestaviahillsal.csiepay.com. To confidentially apply for funds through it, visit the school website to complete a Google form.