By Karen Greenwood Henke, Founder of Grant Wrangler
Did you know that teachers spend an average of almost $500 of their own money on supplies for the classroom each year?
Yet, foundations in the U.S. give away billions, yes, that's right, billions of dollars to support education. There are grants and awards for almost everything: classroom projects, technology, curriculum development, field trips, school gardens, educational travel, teacher recognition and more.
As a parent, you can help your favorite teacher find these opportunities and make your child's classroom a rich, welcoming place full of wonder and excitement for learning. Here are 10 tips for finding funding for your school.
Grants and awards are typically made to the school, so it is important that you search for grants that match the school's needs. The school or district may already be pursuing grants. You can help review proposals or identify new sources. School districts used to hire a grant writer to help with this process, but those jobs are far and few between today. You'll want to find out about your school's resources so you can coordinate your efforts.
Some grants are made directly to classroom teachers. Grants fall into several categories: classroom supplies, subject area support (science, history, government, arts, literacy, etc.), lesson or curriculum development, and awards for past projects. Ask the teacher about upcoming activities and plans to brainstorm what the class needs. Grants often come with obligations so it's important to work closely with the teacher to determine which ones might be best.
Before you start googling "classroom grants," save some time by making a list of keywords to narrow your search. Some typical grant topics to use in your search:
Even though there are billions of dollars out there, many opportunities are hidden deep within grant-giving Web sites. Educational publications and grant listing services can help you search for grants without trolling the whole Internet. Many of these services have alert emails you can subscribe to for updates. Some sites require a subscription, but there are plenty of free resources as well.
Grant-giving Web sites are often tricky to navigate. Look for the most critical information first: the deadline, eligibility requirements, and judging criteria. If you can, take a look at the application. Do you think the amount of time required to complete the application is in proportion to the amount of the award? If not, move on to the next grant.
Several different types of organizations offer grants for schools and classrooms. Grants and awards from associations like the National Gardening Association, International Reading Association or National Science Teachers Association may require membership to apply. Corporate foundations often give to their local community, but many offer national grants such as General Mills Home Town Helper grants and Oracle's ThinkQuest program. Many communities have community foundations and family foundations that give based on their particular areas of interest.
These are grants that your school can easily incorporate into their planned activities. Unless you are on the school board or in a community leadership position, avoid multi-year, major reform projects. These grants require significant support and organizational resources.
Most teachers are pressed for time. Don't send them every grant you find, but give them a short list of the most relevant grants. Include:
Offer to help, but let the teacher decide how to proceed.
You can help with the application by conducting research or reviewing the teacher's draft. Use the judging criteria or last year's winners to make sure that the proposal is a good match. Other things to look for:
Most grants are competitive, which means there will be winners and "non-winners." If your teacher wins, help implement the grant by volunteering your time or researching bargains on the items to be purchased. You could even notify the local press about the award (with the school's permission). If your classroom doesn't win, acknowledge the effort and encourage the teacher to try again.