“By a show of hands, how many of you have visited the Parthenon in Nashville?” I asked a second-grade class one day in the library. Even though my school is 40 miles from the full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, students’ hands remained in their laps. This simple question exemplified a need. My students, who are eager to discover the wonders of the world, may never have the chance. Students need unique learning experiences that will prepare and motivate them for a brighter future.
I asked myself, How could students engage in experiential learning without leaving the school? Virtual reality (VR) technology creates experiences not otherwise possible, but a typical VR system costs hundreds of dollars. Thus, my quest for funding began. I sought donations from the online charity DonorsChoose.org. Much to my amazement, donors funded my request for a VIVE VR System. Now, students can visit the Parthenon in Greece from inside the library.
According to the American Library Association (ALA), “If children are to be prepared for their future, they must have access to information and learn to use it in meaningful and productive ways.” ALA recommends that all school libraries should be adequately funded to ensure that they include up-to-date collections in both print and electronic formats. Yet, many school libraries operate on insufficient budgets. Even adequately funded school libraries find it difficult to purchase “big ticket items” such as VR systems, computers, 3D printers, and robotics kits. Fortunately, there are funding prospects to enhance school libraries’ services and resources.
My library has received money from a variety of sources, and I continue to explore and pursue funding opportunities. In addition to the VIVE VR System, I have had five other projects funded on DonorsChoose.org: an LED Smart TV, littleBits electronic building blocks, iPad Minis, a green screen kit, and a Sphero STEM Robot.
The National Education Association (NEA) awarded my elementary library $1,000 to purchase picture books that reflect diversity. NEA also offers a Student Achievement Grant for up to $2,000. NEA bestowed my library financial backing to acquire a portable STEM cart. The mobile science lab offers the materials teachers need to implement engaging, hands-on lessons.
Apply for grants offered by your state-level school librarians association. For instance, the Kentucky Association of School Librarians offers grants to its members. For example, the Donna Hornsby Joint Technology Project Award awards $400 to be used jointly by the school librarian and teacher applicants for the purpose of promoting the use of technology by teachers and students.
Opportunities could also exist from your state education association. For example, the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) budgets funds to support Read Across America (RAA) events. My school received support from KEA to host a Dr. Seuss-themed door-decorating challenge. Program funds were used to buy each classroom who participated a set of gently used books from Scholastic.
Look for funding from your state’s department of education. My school’s Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) was awarded a mini-grant through the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools program for a student-led project centered on water drainage issues around our school. The grant also allowed the STLP team to take a field trip to Lost River Cave where naturalists helped students conduct field experiments.
Grants Offered by the American Association of School Librarians
AASL offers several grants to consider as well. They include:
ABC-CLIO Leadership Grant, sponsored by ABC-CLIO, awards up to $1,750, to a school library association that is an AASL affiliate for planning and implementing a leadership program at the state, regional or local levels
Inspire Collection Development Grant, sponsored by Marina “Marney” Welmers, awards up to $5,000 to public middle or high schools to extend, update, and diversify their book, online, subscription and/or software collections in order to realize sustainable improvement in student achievement.
Inspire Special Event Grant, sponsored by Marina “Marney” Welmers, awards up to $2,000 to public middle or high schools to create new or enhance existing extracurricular activities in order to increase student academic achievement.
Past-Presidents Planning Grant for National School Library Standards, sponsored by Roger and Susan D. Ballard and Cassandra Barnett, annually awards $2,500 to three AASL affiliates to plan and execute an event, initiative, or activity focused on the implementation of the AASL National School Library Standards. Grants are presented in honor of AASL past presidents.
The Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries, sponsored by Jay Toor, awards $5,000 in funding and travel for the creation and implementation of a local public awareness/marketing campaign that promotes and positions their school library as a necessary resource in the community.
Grant-Writing Grows Experts
Whenever my school library has a book fair, students make a wish list. I remind students that they will probably not get everything listed. This does not stop them from scrutinizing the merchandise and making their top picks. Students’ efforts make it that much sweeter if they are able to purchase a book. Similarly, your school library will not receive every grant for which you apply. My library does not. Still, the work that goes into pursuing funding for a project will give you insight into students’ needs, the latest books, and innovative technology. Your hunt for grant opportunities will do more than help you acquire new materials; it will give you an expertise no price tag can match.
American Library Association. 2010. “School Library Funding Press Kit.” http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/presskits/schoollibrariesincri (accessed September 21, 2018).
Author: Sam Northern, Ed.D.
Sam Northern is a National Board Certified Teacher-Librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. He currently serves as President of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. In 2014, Sam was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program where he spent four weeks in China. Since then, Sam has voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and worked aboard a research vessel on the Atlantic Ocean as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. From January to April 2018, Sam traveled to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program to research best practices for project-based learning. Connect with him on Twitter @Sam_Northern and Facebook @themisterlibrarian.