Teachers Are No Longer Taking Grants For Granted
Melissa Latham discovered in tight fiscal times, teachers must creatively rethink how to fund education opportunities: outside grants are filling that need.
Editor's note: This story is part of a nationwide Patch series probing the economy's effect on local schools.
There was just so much that needed to be done, thought Melissa Latham, an English as a Second Language and 10th grade English teacher at Belmont High School.
A group of students asked if she could teach them German that, since the school dropped the program from the curriculum, is now an independent study course.
Yet with staffing tight and money even tighter, Latham – who received her bachelors and masters from Tufts and is pursuing a doctorate at Boston University – wondered just how she and fellow teacher, Rebecca El-Gamel, could provide the students the necessary instruction to make the classes educationally worthwhile.
"Language input is so important to learning; the give and take of normal conversation," said Latham.
With several student taking intermediary-level German and up to seven expressing interest in elementary German, Latham began exploring a plan for this growing group of students.
But Latham – whose graduate focus is on second language acquisition – quickly discovered that most of the students learning would come from a 12-year-old textbook as she could only provide them face-to-face instruction once a week, not enough time to make the needed impression to begin to understand the subject.
Without the required time the pair needed to set aside, the students would never successfully master German with any proficiency simply by reading the textbook.
With many of her avenues closed, Latham discovered two sources that allowed her and the students a lifeline.
Rather than seeking help from an increasingly strapped school department, she found potential funding and resources from outside the schoolhouse.
Facing several years of stagnant or decreasing budgets, teachers and administrators in Belmont and across the country are increasingly relying on funding their programs through grants and scholarships from educational foundations, local businesses and major corporations.
"(Teachers like Lambert and El-Gamel) are creative and innovative in supporting their students," said Janice Darias, the Belmont School District's assistant superintendent. "And we are here to help them."
The grant and scholarship landscape is varied, from foundations as the Bill & Melinda Gates and George Lucas Education foundations, companies such as Verizon, Siemens, Target and Entergy and the federal and state government seeking to improve schools and teachers.
In Belmont, teachers don't have to look too far for a pot of grant money. The Foundation for Belmont Education, a private local non-profit founded in 1993, raises money to assisted teachers to the tune of $1.86 million in the past 17 years.
Darias said that the Foundation is "extraordinarily supportive" assisting teachers with supplies such as 'smart' boards and creating technically up-to-date classrooms and schools through its T3 campaign.
The district administrative office and leaders in each school will help teachers with advice on how to create a good Foundation grant proposal while a FBE members will follow-up on each request with questions and suggestions for the applicant.
Foundation grants needed more than ever
And the Foundation's support has never been more critical: this year's first of two grant cycles – awards will be announced Dec. 11 – has seen the largest number of teacher applicants seeking funding.
Having FBE is a great training ground on how to approach seeking funds from outside sources, said Darias.
In Latham's search, she began by approaching representatives from Rosette Stone, the CD and online language program that she considers a great resource for active language interaction as it is an immersion-based program where through listening, speaking and reading students come to understand a language.
The company provides a subscription-based study plan; allowing students to be exposed to the language while moving at their own pace whether in class or at home.
"That is the sort of active learning which is needed to understand the language they will be learning," said Latham.
At the same time, Latham discovered that the National Education Association Foundation, the national teachers union, would be awarding grants of about $5,000 to support educators' efforts to improve teaching and learning.
With the Rosetta Stone price quote reduced to $3,000, Latham was able to add new German textbooks – replacing the existing ones written in 1998 – and headsets to round out the total cost to $5,000.
But the grant deadline was nearing. With the help of school administrators – "they were very supportive of what I was doing" – and some convincing grant writing, Latham sent the proposal to be evaluated.
On Nov. 1, Latham and El-Gamel were one of 57 teaching teams nationwide to receive a $5,000 Student Achievement Grant from the NEA Foundation to purchase the Rosetta Stone software to expand the opportunities for students to study German.
Under their new plan, students will work with the online program while El-Gamel – taking on the elementary-level participants – and Latham will meet with the students once a week for reading and to discuss questions of grammar and other related issues.
Latham will use the remaining 14 Rosetta Stone subscriptions in her ESL classes.
"There are creative solutions to the limitations placed on us," said Latham. "And I'm fortunate to be one."