The Friend of Education Award is presented to a person or persons who make special and unique contributions to the cause of education over an extended period of time, but particularly in the last year. Recipients should be outside of the education community or profession, or persons within the profession who have gone considerably beyond the normal expectations of professional assignment.


Michael and Kolane Gilbert

Nominated by: Kelly Garey

Michael and Kolane Gilbert are the 2023 recipients of IEA’s Friend of Education Award.


Public schools are the heart of many Idaho communities — and those schools, in turn, thrive on the community’s embrace. Michael and Kolane Gilbert and their support of VanBuren Elementary in Caldwell provide a perfect example of this extraordinary dynamic and the impact it has on students, educators and the school community.

For the past five years, the Gilberts’ fundraising and event coordination work has fostered a blooming within VanBuren’s school community, according to IEA member Kelly Garey, who nominated the Gilberts for Idaho Education Association’s Friend of Education Award.

“Our school is a Title 1 school with many students living within poverty stricken households,” wrote Garey in the nomination. “Because of the Gilberts’ contributions many families and students have been able to experience many impactful events that they otherwise would not have had the opportunity.”

Whether its popcorn, cookie dough or greeting card sales or a school carnival, the pair’s efforts to fundraise for students and organize events that build community seem inexhaustible. All told, they’ve helped raise more than $25,000 for student activities and materials, including: annual trips to Wagons Ho for fourth graders studying Idaho history, outside musical garden equipment, fun Friday activities and money for field trips.

With the Gilberts’ efforts, parents are more involved in parent nights and other school activities. Daddy-Daughter dances, and gatherings like Muffins for Mom and Donuts for Dad are all part of the community creating work the Gilberts do.

But the Gilberts understand the importance of supporting educators as well. They organize and pay for thoughtful gifts for staff to boost moral and even provide Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for school staff.

“The impact that they have had on our staff is indescribable,” Garey wrote. “We have a zero turn-over rate because staff is happy and feels appreciated here.

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