Shake the Money Tree!

By Nancy Barile on August 2, 2010
  • Grades: 9–12

School's about to start, and I bet you're wishing you had a few more items and supplies for your classroom. In these tough economic times, teachers need to be as resourceful as possible to get materials and create fun learning experiences for their students. I'm going to show you how easy it is to SHAKE THE MONEY TREE, and get what you need to start the year out right.

First off, if you don't know about it already, DonorsChoose is a teacher's best friend. Over the past three years, I've probably received close to $15,000 worth of school supplies from Donors, including books, DVDs, projectors, twelve netbooks, a full-sized air hockey table, a ping-pong table, and a visit from All Souls author Michael Patrick MacDonald. The process is surprisingly easy — anyone can do it, and it takes a minimal amount of time. The results are amazing. Just create an account and go shopping! The site has everything you need to know to be successful.


I work in an urban school district, and I like to find ways to help my students get the cultural capital that they may be missing. I love to provide them with opportunities to attend cultural events in our city. The students enjoy dressing up for a Friday night out in Boston! Many times all you have to do is email or call a production company to get free tickets for a play, ballet, opera, or other musical event. Out-of-town production companies want to make sure every seat is filled on opening night, and sometimes they will give away free tickets in order to fill the house. One of our most generous benefactors is the lovely Jenny Kelly of Jenny Kelly Productions. Jenny is located in Maryland, and she books both opera and ballet. In the past three years, she has given me over 100 tickets for each of her productions that play in Boston. As a result of her kindness, she has made opera lovers out of my high schoolers, who have now seenAida, La Traviata, La Bohème, and The Barber of Seville, to name a few, as well as the Moiseev Russian Classical Ballet production of Swan Lake. I am eternally grateful to Jenny for the amazing experiences she has provided for my students, who often bring their parents and families to these events.  


And our friendship began with an email I sent to her when I saw an ad in the Boston Globe for one of her productions.

When I told the American Repertory Theater that budget cuts eliminated bus transportation to their plays, they brought their entire innovative production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale to the chorus room at our high school! My students felt like they were part of this traditional-theater-meets-beach-blanket-bingo performance.

One Day University was another experience that I found through an ad in the paper. ODU finds the best professors from the world's top schools — Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, and many others — to present on a variety of topics. A call to owner Steve Schragis yielded us about fifteen free tickets (valued at about $259 each!) every time ODU was in town at a local college campus. Not only did my students get to experience a day on a college campus, but they were also introduced to high-level professors who spoke on topics ranging from global warming to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to learning to love classical music. Many of my students wrote their college essays about their ODU experience. While ODU's format has changed recently, I will be eternally grateful to them for the once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into college life they provided for my students.

Some professors will actually hold a class for your students if you ask. My Mysteries students were always fascinated with Professor of Sociology and Criminology Jack Levin, who lectures on violence, prejudice, and crime. I sent an email to Dr. Levin (fully aware that he can command thousands of dollars for speaking engagements), who graciously invited my class to Northeastern University for a free lecture on the myths surrounding serial killers. My students were riveted during this powerful presentation.


Getting media attention for your school can also result in fabulous opportunities. Letting newspapers, TV stations, and other media outlets know about the wonderful things you do in your classroom can result in some surprising outcomes. An article that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor about a writing award I won caught the attention of a philanthropist out in California. She contacted me and gave me $5,000 to start my school's culture club. Later she arranged for $10,000 more to fund our book club and rock ensemble — and those clubs have been continually funded for almost four years now! Another time a newspaper article about the culture club resulted in over 100 free tickets to the premiere of The Kite Runner.

Finally, seeking out grants, especially at the local level, can have amazing results. Every city and town usually has an arts council willing to fund school projects. One of the easiest grants I ever applied for — it was just a few clicks in an online application — was the Massachusetts Cultural Council Big Yellow School Bus Grant, which provided bus transportation to and from the Museum of Fine Arts for my students.

The bottom line is that with a little research and the chutzpah to ask for things, you can obtain wonderful resources for your classroom and exciting opportunities for your students. You just have to go for it.

What resources and ideas do you have? Please share!
~ Nancy



The programs offered by Ms. Barile my senior year really motivated me to get out and see the world. As a low income student I would never have dreamed that I would see an opera till I was 40,or meet Jack Levin ever. This year was unforgettable in so many ways because of the many opportunities we were offered and I'm sad to see it over, for me at least =(


These sound like such great ideas! Wish I had these opportunities when I was in school!

I will have to check out that website too!

Thank you, Victoria and Megan! I truly appreciate the support. ~ Nancy

I like seeing high school teachers who go above and beyond. It certainly impacts your students' lives. Some of the opportunities your class has had have been truly invigorating! One way I shook the money tree last year was how my students were able to tour a science lab at the University of Florida. I am looking forward to more great ideas! - Victoria

Nancy, Great post!! Welcome to I am looking forward to reading your posts this year. Smiles, Megan Power

Oooh, Maria! I'm so glad they could come. Tell them they can still come this year, even though you'll be off in college. I love that photo of you three!

Thank you, Jeanne and Janice! I'll try to keep the tips coming!

It's exciting to know there are opportunities out there to help kids experience things that are unavailable due to shortage of money. This is also great for teachers who are frustrated and oftentimes use their own money.

OMG! I'm really going to miss Culture Club and finding a pretty dress to wear before going to the opera. Thank You sooooooo much, Ms. Barile, for giving my family and me such wonderful memories. My parents were thrilled to be able to accompany us those times we went to the opera because with all the work they have to do and all the struggles they've had to face, it had been 15 years since they had gone out together to something so fancy and special. <3

Way to go Nancy. The "outside the box" experiences you give your kids are life changing. From your over the top efforts on behalf of your students, the students learn that anything is possible. Keep the tips coming.

Thank you, Kim and Mark! I agree with you both - with some effort, you really can find some great resources out there!

Even in these tough times money IS out there if you know how to look and listen! DonorsChoose is my best friend and besides the physical resources that flowed into my classroom, students were directly exposed to the effects of philanthropy: an experience that extends way beyond the classroom. The old adage "you need money to make money" also holds true in education. Once you show that you are willing to be creative in the search for funding and implement consistently its rewards, you will be surprised at the additional sources of funding you will discover and the amount of money people will be willing to invest in you. Keep up the good work, Nancy!

Nancy- great info here. I'm going to use some of these pointers in my area..especially getting the media attention. I agree that there are many resources out there that can contribute, you just have to find them.

Nancy, you are and have always done such nice work with your students. Keep up the great work!

Great views, I completely agree. Two thumbs up

Thank you Lori, Dan, Evan, Rob, and Madeline! And yes, Lori, you are correct. When the kids see what I can accomplish, they are more willing to try. I tell them I throw a lot of lines in the water, but every once in a while, I get to reel a big fish in!

Wow Nancy, these are great tips for teachers! Your also set a great example for your students, in that taking chances and making connections can sometimes really pay off!

This is a terrific article. I think it's a great idea to help kids learn about theirs or other cultures. I think that is a great technique.

Wow, talk about getting out there! I love the idea of the One Day University. What better way to get students interested in college than actually bringing them to one!?

This reminds me about the part in the movie Freedom Writers where after reading Anne Frank the class raises money to bring the woman who hid her to come speak. The teacher made the call. It was a long shot, but like Wayne Gretzky says "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Luckily she took that shot, called, and had her come speak and change the lives of her students. Much like these opportunities!

Thanks for the inspiration!

This is extremely informative, Nancy. What a great resource! Thanks so much for sharing.

Thank you, Liz. I'll try to keep the good stuff coming. And, Mike - WOW! Thank you so much for your kind words. I wish we had those clubs when you were here, too!! It took me a little while to learn the ropes, but now - thanks to this blog - everyone knows the tricks! LOL

Why, oh why, did I have to graduate before the Rock Ensemble, Culture Club, and many of these other college-related opportunities came about? I would have been active in as many of those as possible. Recent RHS grads and current students, do not take for granted the power and inspiration that is Nancy Barile. She is the school's greatest asset. Before any of this, we only had our athletics and the Drama Guild that were worth pursuing. "Ask" times three is right (I'd borrow a quote from Nike, "Just Do It"), and Push, Push, Push is another one. Case in point: Merzudin Ibric. Look at where he is today!

Good luck, Barile. Your innovation will help many teachers and students alike.

This is a terrific resource. I'm so glad you're up here. Looking forward to following you this year!

Hi Carlos! We did have some great times, didn't we?

Thanks, Linda and Ghia! I'll try to keep providing valuable information. I hope you'll keep checking back! ~ Nancy

Hi Nancy,

With all the cutbacks, teachers can always use a little help shaking the $$ tree. Thanks for the great tips in your kickoff post. I can't wait to see what else you have up your sleeve this year!

Cheers, Linda

Great info!!! Can't wait to check out the donorchoose, and share the other resources with my school community. I am excited about the possible opportunities for my students. Thanks a million!

Coming from a former student of Nancy Barile's, I cannot begin to express just how much all of these extra resources aided in the learning process, both inside and outside the classroom. I can honestly say that some of the activities guided by Ms. Barile have put me in the wonderful position of being able to attend college today. I cannot thank her enough and so it is through these kinds of creative and thought provoking programs that can really make a difference in a student's life.

This sounds wonderful. These simple tips are so helpful yet not widely practiced yet. Getting students these opportunities is a small thing that can go a long way. Sometimes all kids need is a little inspiration. Doing these wonderful things will teach them to take advantage of their resources. Glad I came across this helpful post. Thanks and keep writing.

Nancy - you did a great job on your first post. I am in the process of using the DonorsChoose - I wasn't sure how easy it was going to be but after reading how you did it - I can't wait to get started. I can't wait to see what else you have to share.

Aw, Orbie, you're so sweet! I hope you'll come back and chaperone some field trips this year. I'm going to miss you!

This article doesn't come close to how much I loved all the experiences Ms.Barile provided for me and the rest of my classmates. Attending operas, presentations, and going to museum were some of the highlights of my senior year. I never thought I would be an opera fan, but I was wrong. My liking for the theater is now greater, and I thank Ms. Barile for it.

Thanks, Mare! I have to admit that the first opera that I saw was with the kids! (I didn't think I'd like it, but I LOVED it!)

Nancy, Thanks for sharing your money tree with us. I am impressed at all the wonderful experiences you are providing you students. They are very lucky to have you.

Thank you, Lee & Joseph. You would be surprised how much my students enjoy the opera - I know I was!

Your students look very happy to be in your class! It is great to see teenage students enjoying the opera and Shakespeare. Keep up the good work.

Wonderful new ideas for our children! I like the idea of kids having the opportunity to see the ballet or opera.

Thanks, David! Donorchoose is a great find. Jeanne, let me know how you make out with your project. Ledra, I'll be blogging about some more good ideas for urban school teachers, so stay tuned. Good luck on your second year of teaching, Sara. And Nancy, I'm looking forward to reading your post! ~ Thanks, everyone!

These are very helpful tips, and I'm sure students would not only benefit from them but appreciate and enjoy them in their day-to-day classroom experience. Donors Choose in particular is a great find. Thanks very much for sharing this information.

From the opera to the college classroom – superb! Thank you for showing the ways in which new teachers within urban school settings, like myself, can make these experiences possible for our students. These are excellent motivational tools!

These are great ideas. Getting creative with funding can really change the lives of urban youth. Way to go!! Thanks for all your hardwork!!

This is great. I just registered on Donorschoose, and I hope I can use some more of your strategies to help get materials for my classroom! Thanks - this is a great post! Jeanne L.

As only a second year teacher, I am very happy to learn about Donors Choose from you! These are great ideas, thanks for sharing!

I love it! I am going to SHAKE THE MONET TREE this year with my school. Great first post!

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