Last school year, the Education Foundation for Bend-La Pine Schools gave out 41 grants to the Bend-La Pine school district with its Spring Grants program, totaling over $70,000 donated for programs and needs for the upcoming school year. With the 2019-2020 session upon us, the Education Foundation's new Back-to-School Classroom Grants for Educators program offers a new way for teachers and schools to gain extra funding at the beginning of the year.
The Education Foundation has been helping schools for 30 years, offering a Spring Grants for Teachers program, Activity Fee Scholarships for students served under the free or reduced meals program so they can participate in athletics, scholarships for Latinx students to go toward higher education or future trade school plans, and Perseverance Awards for seniors who've navigated difficult obstacles to graduate. However, the Back-to-School Grants program is the only time they've offered a grants program this early in the year, which can be extra beneficial to kids in the numerous K-12 schools in the district.
A new fall grants program
"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."
Teachers and staff will be able to apply for these grants from Sept. 4 to Oct. 18. The grants can range from $200 to $1,000, and the Education Foundation will award them as soon as Nov. 1.
"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 Barrell, FootZone—a lot of other local businesses will do those giveback nights," Johnson tells the Source. "From those we were able to set those funds aside to offer this opportunity to help our public-school teachers."
The Education Foundation has been operating a Spring Grants program for its entire 30 years, supplying grants of up to $2,500, focused mostly on Title I schools (schools that have a high number of low-income students and receive federal funding to help meet education goals), and dedicated toward the following academic year (the $70,000 mentioned earlier will be implemented this school year). The special thing about the Back-to-School program is that it's for every kind of school and will be available when some teachers need it most.
“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.”—Michelle Johnson
"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."
These grants aren't just for classroom equipment either, but for the overall well-being and relationships between educator and student. Some grants of this nature were awarded to programs like First Aid training or even Trauma Informed Care for the entire district.
"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."
Adding value in the classroom
The grants have helped teachers buy things like coding kits, drones, 3D printers and more. Getting exposed to these different fields earlier can really leave an imprint on kids growing up and might even help spark a new interest that could lead into a career—especially when kids may not have these kinds of resources available to them at home.
"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, a teacher at Summit High School who applied for a grant to fund a photography program called Real Cameras For The Real World. The grant allowed the program to obtain three more Canon Revel T6 DSLR bundles. And while this offers more equipment to go around for students, it also helps them take their time spent in the classroom even further.
“…it’s thrilling to see what these students are capable of when they have the right tools.”—Mindy Mendenhall
"It's fine to take pictures with smartphones, tablets or point-and-shoot cameras—in fact, you can get really awesome shots that way," Mendenhall told the Source. "However, it's just not possible to teach the complexity of professional photography without DSLR cameras. Without the right equipment, the class could not qualify students for CTE (career and technical education) credit or qualify as 'real world experience.'"
Without organizations like the Education Foundation, Mendenhall says teachers would be forced to teach more on theory rather than practice—especially in elective classes.
"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."
For teachers, they're appreciative of the grants not for the money but for the access. The grants and programs supply the tools, but they also remove obstacles.
"Some families—students won't be able to find those resources at home. Whether it's economics or financial hardship. The school is the place for that," finished Johnson. "Unfortunately, our public school teachers... you know, they can't do it all. So, we work to partner with them and help support them in supporting our students."