When the 2019-2020 school year started, the Education Foundation for Bend-La Pine Schools was starting to implement a new program: Back-to-School Classroom Grants for Educators. The program allows teachers and schools to gain extra funding earlier in the year than ever before.
This follows in the footsteps of their other worthwhile grant programs, such as the Spring Grants for teachers, Activity Fee Scholarships for students served under free or reduced meal plans, the scholarship program for Latinx students so they can pursue higher-ed or trade programs and the Perseverance Awards, for seniors who have overcome difficult obstacles to meet graduation requirements.
Last year alone the Education Foundation gave out 41 grants throughout the Bend-La Pine School District, totaling over $70,000 in extra funding for this current school year. What makes the new Back-to-School grants program so special is the timing of when educators are able to receive these extra funds.
"It's the first time ever the Education Foundation is providing an additional opportunity for teachers to reach out to us to help with support. Most educators end up spending about $459 out of their own pocket for back-to-school needs," said Michelle Johnson, executive director of the Education Foundation. "We've been able to set aside some funds to help teachers with back-to-school grant requests. And they can be simple requests for some support in the classroom or something a little more in-depth, just depending on what they need."
Educators in the district were able to apply for these grants from September 4 through October 18. Grants were given out as early as November 1 and can range anywhere from $200 to $1,000.
The Spring Title Grants program has operated for 30 years under the Education Foundation and focuses mainly on Title I Schools-schools that have a higher number of low-income students and families. These schools also receive federal funding to help meet education goals. The grants awarded through the spring program are put in place the following school year, just like the $70,000 mentioned previously. With the Back-to-School grants, educators can get funds when not only they need them most—but when the students do as well.
"Even something as simple as school supplies—we have teachers who are just starting out their careers and wanting to stock their classrooms with some supplies that just isn't in the school's budget," continued Johnson. "Whether you're a first-year teacher or a 20-year teacher—you're still doing what you can based on limited funding from the state."
While the grants can most definitely be used for classroom equipment, they go beyond just those obvious physical needs. Last year, grants were awarded throughout the district for programs like Trauma Informed Care and First Aid Training.
"The Trauma Informed Care was something that we had worked on last academic year, helping to provide some resources for our teachers– because no longer are they strictly just teaching A, B and C. They really have other issues that they have to deal with in the classroom," says Johnson. "The district hosts a trauma-informed summit and we work to provide some funding for that particular program."
The Education Foundation helps shed some light on different career paths through their grants. Schools have been able to buy special equipment such as coding kits, drones, 3D printers and more with the awarded funds. Having access to this type of gear in the classroom can really help younger students find new interests and become exposed to different fields—especially when they might not have access like this at home.
One program that has seen success for its participating students is Summit High School's Real Cameras for the Real World.
"Summit's photography program is growing quickly, and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with equitably supplying students with the required DSLR cameras," said Mindy Mendenhall, the teacher who applied for the grant. Through the award, Summit was able to purchase three more Canon Revel T6 DSLR bundles. Having access to this equipment has helped push students to do even more beyond the classroom.
"Student photographers who have mastered a DSLR are confident enough in their skills to engage their communities and offer their services for pay," added Mendenhall. "I've had students shoot senior photos, weddings, family portraits, sell their prints online, collaborate with realtors, freelance for local businesses needing product photography, shoot races for competitive mountain biking... it's thrilling to see what these students are capable of when they have the right tools."
While the Education Foundation has held a strong presence in the district for decades, their Back-to-School program will push that presence even further.
"It's really possible this year because of the generous business support in the community. We have businesses that do fundraisers for us like Worthy Brewing, 10 Barrel, FootZone—a lot of other local businesses will do those giveback nights," says Johnson. "From those we were able to set those funds aside to offer this opportunity to help our public-school teachers."