Digging Up Funds for Science
Is your science program suffering from the "budget blues"? Here’s how to find the funds you need!
by Joyce Baldwin
February: This is the month when your principal reminds you that it's not too soon to start planning for next year then tells you about cuts in the school budget.
Does this mean you have to shelve your wish list for next year's science program? Maybe you've had your eye on a high-tech weather station for a stronger earth science unit, or on supplemental resource materials with tried-and-true science investigations.
With your school purse strings tightened, will you have to open your own pocketbook? According to a readership survey conducted by the National Science Teachers Association in Science and Children, teachers spend an average of $345 of their own money to try to teach science as they believe it should be taught. Though that amount seems huge coming form a personal bank account, it doesn't seem unreasonable as a grant request.
A grant? you groan. But why not? If you've been put off by the thought of the paperwork or feel unsure about the intricacies of grant application procedures, be reassured: teachers who have applied for grants report that they found the rewards were substantial, ranging from one hundred dollars to several thousand!
Weslyn Strickland, a first-grade teacher in Jamestown, North Carolina, has been bitten by the "grant bug" for several years. "I keep my ear to the ground for ideas," says Strickland, adding that she hears about local grants from her district science supervisor, and by reading newsletters and attending meetings. She hears about other grants through the North Carolina Science Teachers Association and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
"Applying for grants involves some creative thinking," Strickland says. "I try to use words that will be sufficiently powerful to turn the decision in my direction." She advises prospective recipients to come up with catchy titles for their proposals, and to shape them so that they "have a slant or an avenue that hasn't been quite touched before."
A look at Strickland's roster of grant proposals shows her special appeal. "Student Archaeologist Fossil Excavators," or SAFE, was the name she gave a project to take her students on an archaeological dig. "Bringing Chemistry Home" caught the attention of decision makers at the American Chemical Society, perhaps in part because Strickland coordinated her proposal with National Chemistry Week.
Strickland, who has been awarded grants from $200 to $5,000, offers these tips to prospective grantees: Start early, ask other people to critically read your application, and draw up a realistic budget. Fill out the forms completely, follow the rules, and meet deadlines!
Carmen Edgerly's eyes brighten at the sight of grant opportunities. A fifth-grade teacher at P.S. 41 in New York City, her first grant came through the IMPACT II program. "I looked at other grants to figure out the IMPACT II format," she explains. "I followed that format because I'd never written a grant before." Edgerly has had other grant requests for photography supplies, for cooking with science, and for growing and studying crystals funded through the New York City Board of Education.
Funding through grants requires some patience, advises Edgerly, because it can take two to three months from the time the application has been mailed to when you learn whether your activity has been funded. "But don't despair," she adds. "The results are worth it."
Edgerly says that she has applied for grants with her students and gotten them involved by inviting them to check her mailbox for the decision. "Do you know what's wonderful?" she adds. "When they open the letter, and they see we've got our grant that's the great part!"
How to Get Your Wishes Granted
If you have a project you would like funded, a good place to begin is with you school district's science supervisor. There may be local sources for funding that you are unaware of. Some districts, for example, have adopted fundraising models such as those set up by IMPACT II The Teachers Network. IMPACT II is a technical-assistance program that encourages fund-raising through local corporate commitments. The average grant awarded through IMPACT II is $500. (For Information about how to adopt the IMPACT II model, write to IMPACT II The Teachers Network, 285 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013.)
Another way to begin is by contacting the Foundation Center, a clearinghouse for grant information.
The Center has main offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., plus regional offices and a network of more than 180 libraries and nonprofit institutions that provide free access to fund-raising materials. To locate the foundation office nearest you, call 1-800-424-9836, toll-free.
In addition, the Foundation Center has published many guides to fund-raising, including The National Guide to Funding for Elementary and Secondary Education (February 1991). The guide lists more than 1,400 foundations and corporations that specialize in providing grants to teachers. The Foundation Directory (13th edition, 1991) is a more general guide to grants listed by state, and is frequently available in public libraries.These materials are part of an electronic library. They may be copied for classroom use, but not reposted or resold.