Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Classroom Grants for Classroom Memories

While the majority of school days are taken up by routine lessons and mundane tasks, I believe that teachers and principals should strive to give students very positive memories of their time in a particular class or building. Students often remember special projects and particular activities far longer than the day-to-day grind that makes up most of the school year. While it is true that some teachers just have a more vibrant, fun personality than others, that doesn’t keep any teacher from developing engaging activities that students will remember for the rest of their lives. The good news is that you may be able to get grant money to help fund your special project.

Now don’t get me wrong. Each of these projects should have a very specific purpose and be centered on students developing skills or acquiring knowledge not already in place. Every project and every unit that you develop should have a pre- and post-test of some type to determine each student’s starting point at the beginning of the project and measuring the growth of each student during the project. Units involving Native Americans and dinosaurs abound in elementary schools because students like them, but I wonder how many of these units teach and track the skills that students should be developing? They certainly have plenty of potential for helping students learn skills and acquire important knowledge. It’s really up to the teacher to make sure these components are included and measured.

If grantors are going to give you money to develop a unit or a project, you can bet they will want to know the positive results that you achieve. Grantors have helped teachers develop gardens at their schools, install piano labs, set up outdoor science labs, build service-learning units, establish mobile computer labs, participate in a series of unusually productive field trips – the list goes on and on. If you can develop a unit or project that is unique and particularly meaningful to students, you have a good chance of finding a grant partner.

To get started, you need to think of a fun, productive project that gives you an opportunity to teach a skill that is included in your curriculum. You then need to set the scope of the project including some sort of pre- and post-test so you can measure growth. You need to give a lot of thought to the activities that will enable all of your students to develop the skills and learn the information you require them to learn. Once you get the entire project planned from start to finish, you should use a grant database to find a possible sponsor for your project. If you do not find a grantor in a month or two of searching, you might want to find a local sponsor for your project. This could be a local business, your own PTA or PTO, a wealthy individual in the community, or even an interested parent who might have the money to spare and needs a tax deduction.

I think it is important when developing your project and seeking a grantor to keep in mind that you want your students to remember this project for the rest of their lives. In the middle school where I was principal in Northeast Texas, we called it “making memories.” I encouraged every teacher to develop one such project every year. We were fortunate because even though we were a poor school, we brought in enough money through grants and business partnerships that we could fund almost any project our teachers developed.

As a result of our “making memories” program, every student raised his or her mother a plant for Mothers’ Day in our school greenhouse. One hundred seventy-five of our five hundred students took free piano lessons every day in our piano lab. Our eighth graders were treated to a robotics program in one of our two computer labs. One hundred of our students participated in a service learning class where they helped in our local hospital, senior center, elementary school, or our sheltered workshop every day. Those are just a few of the projects our teachers initiated. I can tell you that although years have passed, our students still fondly remember each of those projects.

It is important that students have positive memories of their time at your school. These positive memories tend to make them better students as they move through the educational process. Take the challenge and begin thinking about the special project that you can initiate next school year.

Remember, you’re not going to necessarily have the money to initiate the project you develop. Try to find grant money using a good school grant database, develop a business partnership locally, or find an individual to sponsor your project. Make those memories and don’t let anything get in your way.


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