Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS
I know you’ve all forgiven me for reminiscing about my early years as a SPED teacher. I think there are lessons to be shared for things I had to learn the hard way. One is how to get stuff. In the beginning, purchasing supplies was a complete mystery to me, and it seemed a well-guarded secret in my school (you’re not paranoid it really is well-guarded). I could always work with the Principal to get basic supplies, but I had a hard time combatting the devil’s words “budget cuts” for big and transformative equipment and materials to make a difference in students’ lives. We’re all really busy, and in the old days, I often shrugged my shoulders and soldiered on rather than fight with people to get what I needed. I’m also maddeningly conflict-averse, but that’s a story for another day.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to work with the powers-that-be to get what I need. I’ve become so good at it; they’ve promoted me to administrator and made me Grants Director. One thing I learned is that in some cases the timing of the request and learning to use your school district’s purchasing processes is the key to success. As might be expected, the road to getting something is long and filled with potholes and shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but my goal has always been to put my credit card away and avoid using my own money to buy what I need.
One grant-like resource is DonorsChoose.org, especially when you have needs that can be tied to a special project. I’ll write an article on that soon too. Crowdsourcing is now not just the concern of Donors Choose, there are other group sites too. Try them all, it’s worth studying their websites to learn how to apply and which one is right for your needs.
First about timing. Your school district operates on federal, state, and local funding calendars. You need to find out when your fiscal year begins. In my district, it’s July 1, and I like to attend school committee meetings in May and June to learn how the administration is planning to spend money the next year. It’s often smart to align your classroom to future priorities, at least in your talking points, so you can piggyback on funding that will be in the bank in September. Let’s say the Superintendent has lobbied hard for money for STEM projects K-12. See if you can talk about what you need in terms of how you can teach STEM subjects to your LD kids (for example).
Likewise reading instruction, is the district planning to buy a new reading series for grades 1-5? It’s easy to make sure your classroom is included in the discussion, to make sure you receive new materials too, but also to access some of the add-on materials that publishers like to include with their products. There are now online versions of texts. Books are disappearing, be sure you have new tablets or laptops in your classroom so you can access those resources. There’s also a purge of old stuff when you’re buying into new programs. Be first in line (in June and during the summer) to scrounge some of those castoff supplies. You’ll find new copies of books and workbooks that are being thrown away wholesale; it’s a crime. No harm in using them as supplementary materials in your classroom, or to start your own classroom library.
Another timing trick is to haunt your business manager’s office (she’s your best friend, right?) toward the end of the school year. There are almost always dribs and drabs of money left in supply lines. Educators are frugal, and sometimes they don’t spend all their money (hard to believe but it happens in my school every year.) Make sure you can be articulate with the business manager to impress on her how much you need new tablets. She can sometimes carve out some funds to help you out. Her goal is to spend it all; she doesn’t want to have to send it back.
This is true for your Grants Manager too. Federal grants like Title I, the SPED grants, Teacher Quality grants, the list goes on, will often have unspent funds at the end of a fiscal year. The grants director might be able to move some unused salary money into a supply line to help you. Your need must be related to the goals of the grant, so make sure you've read the grant narratives. Sometimes they're posted in the Grants section of your school district's website. If not, the Grants Director is your second best friend, right?
If all of this sounds sneaky, think again. These strategies are smart, and you can use them to make your classroom the best-supplied room in the school. Other teachers will want to know how you do it. Above all, keep your smile handy, it opens the door every time.
After School Grants Project
RBC Foundation USA
The RBC After-School Grants Project offers funding to programs that provide a range of structured, supervised activities for K-12 students in the critical hours after the school day ends. The After-School Grants Project focuses on programs that: Improve academic achievement of students; Increase students’ self-esteem through skill development activities rather than free play time; Reinforce basic social skills such as cooperation, team-building and conflict resolution to help youth begin to develop workplace competencies; Focus on activities such as mentoring, tutoring, literacy education, music and art lessons, computer instruction and homework help; Encourage and develop partnerships between home, schools and the community; Are financially accessible with no or very low participation fees; Provide a safe environment; and assist at-risk or underserved communities.
After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
Public School, Other
Proposal Deadline Description
February 24 and July 14
$1,000.00 - $15,000.00
60 S 6th St, M.S. P20, Minneapolis, MN 55402-4422
Free Grant Search Database
MySchoolGrants is a complete grant search tool that is manually updated and checked for accuracy. It includes federal grants, state grants, corporate grants, and grant alerts.
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