A Teacher’s Story: How to Fund Your Classroom
Alyssa Kave is a physical education teacher at Wells Elementary in the East Moline School District, Illinois. She has been using grants and crowdsourcing efforts to supplement her classroom and discusses the difficulties teachers face.
The Need: Physical Education Resources
I am a physical education teacher at Wells Elementary in East Moline, Illinois. Every school in my district has a population of 100 percent free/reduced lunch students based on their economic status. Our students live in environments that would make most people shudder and they encounter things I could never imagine, especially at such young ages.
Given our students’ economic backgrounds, we try our best to teach them to be independent thinkers, learners, and leaders. As part of this mission, we are a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports school, meaning we recognize positive behaviors and leadership qualities to make the school environment a positive and safe place for all students.
One area where students can have the opportunity to excel in leadership is through physical education. When students live in such high-poverty areas, physical education may be the only chance for them to be active and play throughout the day, as their families likely cannot afford for them to be a part of extracurricular activities or sports teams. Some families do not even want their children playing in the neighborhoods they live in.
We believe that active and fun recess time can lead to incredible benefits by teaching social skills such as negotiation tactics and conflict resolution. Recess also helps students learn self-control and hone decision-making skills. Finally, and rather obviously, recess allows our students to be active, increase their heart health, and decrease the rates of childhood obesity.
The Problem: Lack of Equipment and Funding
Physical education equipment is a critical component to ensuring our students get the positive activities they need. Equipment is also needed to meet national and state standards in many locomotor, manipulative, and sport skills. However, physical education equipment is very expensive and my budget each year has ranged anywhere from $0 to $100. One gator ball (foam ball with coating) costs between $10 and $15. When I have a class of 20–25 (sometimes more) students who need to maximize their practice and activity time, acquiring this equipment is challenging.
When equipment is low, this means students have to find other ways to play and other things to keep them engaged. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can create tension when they all want to play with the same few pieces of equipment that is available to them. While sharing is something that students are taught at school and home, it is difficult to share less than 10 pieces of equipment with sometimes up to 90 students.
Fundraising in a high-poverty school is also extremely challenging. If the students are living in poverty, their families, friends, and neighbors are not able to contribute to our “wants” because they need to make sure their basic needs (bills, food, clothing) are being met.
Possible Solutions: Grants or Crowdsourcing
One solution that has worked for me to overcome the hardships of fundraising in my school community is to use crowdsourcing websites such as Donor’s Choose, Classwish, and Adopt-A-Classroom. Crowdsourcing allows teachers to post funding requests and connect to thriving communities of donors eager to fund classroom projects. I have used Donor’s Choose to find funding for the equipment my students need to be successful and thoughtful leaders. The site is user-friendly and easy to complete for busy teachers with many demands placed on them. If you are interested in using a site like Donor’s Choose, I recommend researching projects that may be similar to yours by reading their essays and browsing the materials lists. This will give you an idea of what vendors to research and use for your own project.
Another solution to funding challenges is easy-to-apply grants, such as Target grants or grants from local community or school foundations. GetEdFunding and Fund for Teachers have a variety of local grants. The Grantsmanship Center also offers grants, as well as a list of local and regional community and education foundations.
Tips for Success
Regardless of whether you choose to explore grants or crowdsourcing, it is important to market your project. Consider emailing your coworkers and administrators and use social media to promote your project. Email your students’ parents if it is appropriate. If you can get the word out quickly, the better chance your project will get funded. People love to see the passion teachers have behind their work, students, and school.
If you decide to try crowdsourcing, you have the best chance for success by keeping your project simple. Projects with too high a cost risk not getting funded or taking a very long time to get funded. For example, the current project I have listed on Donor’s Choose for recess equipment involves every grade, which comes at a steep price. We are struggling to get this funded in the allotted timeframe. However, I remain optimistic; it just may take more time.