As he usually does, Elon Musk took to Twitter on his phone one early spring morning and released some breaking news.
“I am donating $ 20 million to Cameron County Schools and $ 10 million to the City of Brownsville for downtown revitalization,” he wrote on March 30. cheep. “Details to follow next week.”
Billionaire SpaceX and the CEO of Tesla, aspiring colonizer of Mars and last weekend SNL host, he was referring to the South Texas community where he built a SpaceX launch site. And by local standards, the amount is stratospheric; in fact, it will probably be one of the largest private donations these schools have ever seen. The median household income in the area is about $ 38,600, according to US Census Data.
Musk has voiced his desire to convert the unincorporated village of Boca Chica Village, close enough to SpaceX that rocket launches break windows, in the city of Starbase, Texas. The donation, to be delivered through his Musk Foundation, is part of his plan to develop the futuristic workforce he needs.
In Los Fresnos, a small town about 30 miles east of SpaceX, Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar saw the tweet. Like other school system officials, he first learned of the massive donation along with Musk’s 54 million Twitter followers.
Soon after, Salazar found himself in a meeting with the Musk Foundation, presenting a list of the district’s needs. “The next day or two later, they were asking us for routing numbers,” he said. “He had never experienced anything like that”.
Locals are becoming more familiar with Musk’s unconventional approach. Since SpaceX began building at the Brownsville site in 2014, Musk’s plans have evolved from site to site. launch commercial satellites to a center for manned space travel. And Musk’s impromptu tweet has gotten him into trouble, including a $ 40 million fraud charges settlement and a separate defamation lawsuit.
Salazar says that the reactions of the locals have been very mixed. Some wonder what the company expects in return, but he is confident that the partnership will benefit his students and the region.
“They are simply making an investment in the community. What they want is to see proven results, ”he says. “There’s a little bit of wonder, some speculation, excitement and some people say, ‘How cool.’
School districts in Cameron County have reported that they have received a combined total of approximately $ 5 million thus far for STEM career and technical education programs. Amounts vary based on enrollment and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Brownsville ISD, the largest school district in the county, received more than $ 2.4 million.
Assistant Superintendent Anysia Treviño said the donation will help Brownsville ISD achieve its long-term goal of increasing the number of students pursuing science careers. It will fund professional development, hands-on STEM curriculum, and after-school programs to foster student interest in fields such as computer science. The district wants to prepare students for internships during high school, he says, and for careers that include electric vehicles and robotics.
“This donation was really unexpected and very necessary,” says Treviño. “For BISD and the population of children we serve, it doesn’t come every day, not even every year.”
On the road in Los Fresnos CISD, Salazar says his district received just over $ 624,000 from the Musk Foundation on April 19. The funds will help expand the district’s college readiness centers in its three middle schools. The district is also transforming a high school building into a career and technical education center, where students can work toward certifications during the day, and adults can take classes with local college instructors at night. Los Fresnos CISD has an enrollment of about 10,600 and 80 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, he says.
“Representatives [from the Musk Foundation] He explained that Mr. Musk works on a very different timeline, as evidenced by the way they made the donation, ”says Salazar. “I tell people, God works in mysterious ways and all blessings come through him, and he works through philanthropists and community organizations.”
Musk has his share of critics in the region. Some worry about the impact from SpaceX on the surrounding wetlands and housing affordability. After all, the company has issued public calls to help locate debris from explosions when your rockets fail. Several groups celebrated “Saturday Night Live” on Facebook to protest Musk’s appearance on SNL.
But such criticism has not dampened the enthusiasm of school officials or their hopes for how the funds can improve their STEM programming.
It’s a significant donation for Los Fresnos, Salazar says, especially considering the funds are just the beginning of what the Musk Foundation seems willing to give away. While the foundation did not provide hard and fast deadlines for when schools must report to the foundation on how it is using the money, Salazar says he wants to see progress before releasing more funds.
A couple of days before Musk announced the $ 20 million donation, Salazar was touring SpaceX. Their hosts ended the day thinking that today’s high school kids would be the ones to colonize Mars, so they wanted the students to experience the tour tomorrow. Salazar thought it was a way of speaking, until he turned to leave.
“They grabbed my arm and said, ‘When we say tomorrow, we mean tomorrow,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘What time do you want them here?’ Knowing very well that it is 4:30 in the afternoon. We need permission slips, we need buses, we need meals. “
The next morning, 70 students showed up, permission forms in hand, ready to board the school bus to SpaceX.