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July 28, 2016
Vol. 11
No. 22

Want to Be a Change Agent? Show Them the Money!

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"I just can't say no to you." My colleague was half joking, of course, as I talked her into yet another project-based learning adventure, but really, how could she say no? I encourage my fellow teachers to incorporate project-based learning, service learning, and the arts into their teaching because these activities especially benefit English language learners (ELLs). Even better, I can get the funding to make these changes possible. What's not to like about that?
My gravitation toward grant seeking began as a way to solve a challenge that may be familiar to other English language acquisition teachers: ELLs at higher levels of proficiency don't need to be pulled from their general education classrooms into specialized programs; they need their general education classrooms to incorporate project-based learning that focuses on authentic, relevant, content-related activities. Like good teachers everywhere, my colleagues realized the value of these experiences but had difficulty implementing them because they were swamped with the daily demands of the classroom and hamstrung by finances. This is where I could help.
Because I've been able to obtain grant support for various activities, I've expanded my reach beyond my own classroom and stealthily influenced my fellow teachers. In other words, I've changed things. Like my colleague said, it's pretty hard to say "no" to an idea that's already funded. Many times, I'm not even instigating or participating in the actual learning activity; the grants I write simply provide the means to enrich it. Here are a few examples.

Jump-Start Service Learning

Our school has an annual food drive to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A service learning grant I wrote last year, from the Michigan Community Service Commission, funded transportation to a local food bank's warehouse so that students could volunteer there and actually see where their donated food was going. I applied for this grant, again, this year. Although we didn't win the grant, the activity was so popular with students that teachers requested it be the one grade-level field trip our Parent-Teacher Organization pays for every year.
Using a grant award to get an idea off the ground and then continuing it later with other funding is exactly what grant applications mean when they ask you about your project's sustainability. You can be sure I'll mention the food bank field trip in future grant applications. Youth Service America is a great source for service-learning grant information.

Extend the Arts

My school is lucky enough to be in a district that provides 4th grade field trips to our local symphony orchestra's annual youth concert. Imagine how much richer this experience was when, a week before the concert, an ensemble from the orchestra played at our school and explained their instruments. Originally, this activity was funded by the now-defunct Target Arts grant program, but I managed to acquire funding again this year through a minigrant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
A good idea can get funding from several different sources; it's just a matter of finding the grant program that fits your project. Target still has a wonderful field trip grant program that every teacher should know about.

Find Your Park

The National Park Trust has held a free field trip contest since 2012, and my school has won every year. This grant program emphasizes youth involvement, so students take an active role in preparing the grant application, orienting fellow students to the planned field trip, and following up with reports about the field trip. This year, upper elementary ELLs prepared the winning field trip grant application. Now, they're making materials to prepare the kindergarten students they will be leading on the field trip. The whole experience provides a great example of writing for a real purpose.

Funding Change

I encourage you to be change agents by using grants to not only benefit your own students, but also reach beyond your classrooms. When applying for grants, keep these tips in mind.
  • Think big. Grant funders like projects that benefit large numbers of students. Try out that good idea in your classroom now so that you can scale it even larger in the future.
  • Collaborate. Funders look kindly on collaboration, and it can help your idea benefit more students.
  • Share successes. I gave grant application templates and advice to a teacher who had participated in a grant-funded project at my school. Imagine how good it made me feel to hear of her success later. I may have grown my own grant competitor, but I'm OK with that because I believe in the kinds of projects she is seeking to fund.
Don't let grant writing intimidate you. Money is out there for projects like yours; go for it and use funding to make changes.

Barbara Gottschalk, as a full-time, in-the-trenches educator, taught English language learners from first graders to graduate students in five states in three very different parts of the United States. After teaching English in Japan early in her career, she earned an M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) as well as an MBA.

She was an invited speaker on ELL issues for the 30th Annual High Schools That Work Development Conference and has presented numerous times at the International TESOL conference and at conferences for state affiliates MITESOL, Ohio TESOL, and Kansas TESOL. A two-year stint representing English language learner interests as one of 160 fellows in America Achieves, a national educator organization, elevated her voice further. Gottschalk wrote and implemented many successful grants for her school and has served as a grant reviewer for TESOL, her professional organization, as well as for the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition. Her first book, Get Money for Your Classroom: Easy Grant Writing Ideas that Work, was published by Routledge in 2017.

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