When Dr. Gene A. Buinger came to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District (HEB ISD) in 1999, he expected to stay for a few years more than the average Superintendent and retire. According to him, the average term for the post is around three years. He anticipated spending about twice that time here. Instead, he stayed for fourteen years. If he hadn’t, 6 Stones might not be what it is today.
From our launch in 2009 until his retirement four years later, Dr. Buinger was one of our most important allies. To be perfectly honest, we knew what we wanted to do at the time (transform a community), but we had no idea how to do it (build a coalition). It’s generally acknowledged that investing in children and improving education is a good place to start, so we set out to implement what would eventually become the School Based Initiatives branch of our services. But without the support of the superintendent, there would have been no Operation Back 2 School, no Night of Hope, no intramural soccer program for at-risk students. These things happen only in partnership, and the kind of alliance we were proposing was almost unheard of at the time. But Dr. Buinger was willing to try it. In fact, he served on our board until his retirement.
“When you see other communities — 6 Stones reaching out to Bedford and Hurst — and you saw that the usual barriers that oftentimes exist were being broken down, then this was something that I wanted to spend my time and efforts in helping. Because I do believe that Communities, in the term of a big C, are too fragmented in our efforts. The Big C means bringing lots of people and lots of organizations to the table,” Buinger said of his time on the board. “What’s been accomplished by 6 Stones is truly amazing.”
Both he and his successor, Steve Chapman, have been ideal members of that Big C Community: bringing their own resources to bear and gladly accepting anyone and everyone who wanted to join this coalition. It’s hard to oversell the value of a Superintendent who will let church volunteers set up Christmas parties for elementary students in their district, much less one who allows them to use the district’s buildings to do so. But Dr. Buinger had a clear vision from the start: as long as everyone is welcome and nothing is forced, we can — and should — serve our neighbors together. He's proud of the way that partnership has developed over the years.
“The best thing that can happen in life is that you create something that goes on beyond your tenure. Certainly, that’s what happened with 6 Stones,” Buinger said, adding that programs like ours “are critical for communities with the student makeup that we have here in Hurst, Euless and Bedford.”
We’re honored to be considered part of Dr. Buinger’s legacy. His tenure was one of the most successful in the history of HEB ISD; stabilizing a community that was changing more rapidly than most of its leadership realized. Students and families in the district were increasingly underprivileged when he arrived, and the number of languages spoken in the district nearly doubled while he was at the helm. Around a quarter of students in this area now are resettling here after immigrating from a foreign country. Most of the district officials didn’t think that they would need to change in the face of those demographic shifts until Buinger arrived and convinced them that they would need to take a new approach. Under his leadership, those statistics weren’t stumbling blocks for this community: they were hurdles that, in time, taught us to strain for a higher goal.
Rather than deny the change, and rather than accept it as the first step on a downward staircase, Dr. Buinger and his staff set out to build a program that equipped every student — regardless of their economic or cultural background — for success, and that expected the best for and from each of them. 6 Stones was part of the work that helped to level the playing field for those kids, but it was a community-wide effort that saw our district consistently rated as #1 program. Naturally, when it was time for Buinger to move into the next stage of his life, we felt it only fitting to help students do the same.
The Dr. Gene and Mary Kay Buinger Scholarship was established to give less fortunate students in HEB ISD the chance to continue their education after high school. It is directly linked to fundraising through the annual Run for Hope, and Dr. Buinger himself designed the criteria for its recipients. He felt strongly that students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program — a curriculum designed to prepare young men and women on every continent for college as well as citizenship in the world — should be rewarded for their hard work.
“Students today, certainly more than in my generation, are going to be citizens of the world. That’s the reason that International Baccalaureate is important, and we recognize that by having a scholarship that gives money to students that are IB graduates and students who plan to attend college locally. We have great universities here in the Dallas area, and many of our students are strapped financially and do what many kids going to college find unimaginable: still live at home and drive to college,” Buinger said of the selection process. “We wanted to recognize the students who stepped up, took the International Baccalaureate degree program, got the diploma, and then were going to stay in the area, mostly because of family circumstances.”
As Buinger sees it, students who complete the IB program have proven themselves ready for collegiate workloads and demanding schedules. He expressed the utmost confidence that every student considered for the scholarship would not only matriculate, but graduate and go on to success. For most if not all of those students, the scholarship that bears his name can be a life-changing one. This year, the majority of finalists were either first-generation Americans or born outside of the United States. Most of them are here because their families sacrificed to give them a chance to secure the best possible education.
“One of the families [considered in previous years], the mother and the father were both working at the airport in minimum wage jobs. But they brought their children here so that they could get a quality education. They had moved here from a nation in Africa,” Buinger said, noting that not only had the young man in question secured a scholarship but that his sister was now enrolled in pre-IB courses of her own and may well follow her brother’s path.
It’s not easy to send a student to college. Higher Education is more expensive every year, doubling in actual cost since the early 2000’s. According to The College Board, a nonprofit dedicated to preparing individuals for their collegiate careers, a degree from the average public, in-state, four-year university cost $8,439 per year in 2000 and is now expected to run students $19,548 annually. Private schools average more than twice that, with a sticker price of $43,921 every year.
Those numbers are astronomical for a student eligible to receive support through the Buinger Scholarship. Per capita income in this area averages around $30,000; making public university attendance a stretch even for children with two working parents. Dr. Buinger suggested that around 1 in 20 students within HEB ISD come from families that could pay out-of-pocket for the next level of education. He also said that our students are doing everything they can to get themselves there anyway. Many of them are learning job skills to offset their expenses, making the most of a technical education building that bears his name.
“Scholarships are very important and this facility is important,” Buinger said, having sat for an interview on the second floor of the Gene A. Buinger Career & Technical Education Academy. “A lot of people would say ‘you come to the career and technology center; you’re not college bound.’ Well, that’s just not the case any longer. We interviewed students today, in fact, for the scholarship, that were going and getting phlebotomy training so that they could be a phlebotomist and make $11/hour while they’re in college, rather than making pizzas and being paid the minimum wage. Another of the young men was getting his pharmacy tech certification. He will be able to work as a pharmacy tech — again, not a minimum wage job — and help pay his way through college. The programs here also have built in pathways so that the students can find funding and pay for the advanced training and education that are required for good jobs today.”
We want to do everything we can to contribute to those pathways. This year, we’ll be able to offer six scholarships to local students, the Buinger scholarship being directly funded by the Run for Hope. An annual 10K, 5K, and 1-mile race, the Run for Hope generates a large portion of our annual operating budget, helping us to equip students with school supplies every August and provide food and gifts for disadvantaged families every December. But this run isn’t about money. It’s about unity.
“It’s great for the community to come out and do things together. We live very segregated lives. Our work, where we live, where we go to practice our faith. So it is so neat to see the community come together around an event. And not just a fundraising event, but a fitness event. Lifetime fitness is important,” Buinger said. “My wife and I no longer run, but we take part in the walk. It is truly great to see individuals — from many different faith backgrounds and many different nationalities, et cetera, but they’re all from this community — come here and take part in this event.”
So how about it? Will you run with us?