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August 2, 2010 Shake the Money Tree! By Nancy Barile
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.

    ASK, ASK, ASK!

    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


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