Funding | FETC 2011 Coverage
Free Money: 11 Tips for Securing Grants To Enhance Instruction
When it comes to education funding, Andy and Samantha Jeter--a husband and wife team from the Lee County Public Schools in southwest Florida--know where the money is. Grant funds are a great resource, said the Jeters, addressing a standing-room only crowd at the FETC 2011 conference last week; you just need to know how (and when) to go after them.
Writing a grant to fund classroom instruction can be overwhelming, Samantha Jeter conceded; but once you know how the process works and what you can do to increase your odds, grant funds become one more asset in your toolkit. "In fact," she said, "after 10 years of writing grants, I'm at the point where I believe I can get funding [for any of my projects] if I really set my mind to it."
That confidence isn't unjustified. With a strong plan and a history of successes to back it up--scoring everything from handheld learning devices to 3D imaging equipment to books and magazine subscriptions--the pair understands what funding bodies are looking for and what they need to do to stand out above the crowd.
"The fist thing you need to do," said Samantha Jeter, "is a thorough needs assessment. Don't be afraid to ask yourself:
- "What resources do I need in my classroom?
- "What tools am I missing that will help enhance learning and retention?
- "What kinds of things could be repurposed to get more bang for the buck?
- "How can I use new technology to teach current (or even old) curriculum?
- "How can I engage my students in new and exciting ways?"
Once you have some answers to these questions, she continued, you can really start to figure out which grants fit your needs and then begin the process of applying.
It's important to know--especially if you're applying for federal funds--that school districts are limited to the amount of money they can receive from the government. "You want to make sure," Jeter insisted, "that you're letting people in your district know if you plan to go after large federal grants." The last thing you want to do, she said, is get a large grant for a project and then realize it impacts overall funding available to the district.
Create a Catchy Title
Everybody loves a good story; and good stories always have compelling titles. The Jeters' tips for creating a memorable title for your grant proposal include:
- Give your proposal a unique name;
- Don't be afraid to use alliteration and rhyming;
- Acronyms, puns, and exiting verbs all add to a memorable title.
Names from some of the Jeters' winning proposals include "Tools for Success for Stories in Distress" and "I've Got the Whole Word in My Hand."
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Keep it Student-Centered
According to Adam Jeter, it's critical to remember that a successful grant proposal is never about the technology you intend to purchase for the classroom: "It's always about the kids." Keep your proposals focused on how new resources will enhance education and learning for the children in your class, and let the technical details of the "awesome devices you want to buy" play a minor role.
Keep It Simple
Something that's easy to forget, said Samantha Jeter, is that the majority of people reading these proposals are not going to be educators. "That's why it's important to keep your writing clear, concise, and easy to understand." Stay away from jargon, she insisted. Don't use abbreviations or acronyms, and make sure you have a friend or family member that is not an educator read your proposal for clarity.
"This seems obvious," Jeter said, but it's easy to overlook. "We could all tell some bad, bad stories," but that's not what these people want to hear. "They want to hear how the money you're asking for is going to be used to change the way you teach in the classroom. So, establish the need," she went on, "but always be positive."
Increase Your Odds
According to the Jeters, there are some easy ways you can increase your chances of actually receiving a grant. "Don't be afraid to ask for small amounts," the pair insisted. Smaller grants can really add up; and--most importantly--they are more likely to be approved.
Also, if allowed, teachers should fill out multiple applications for different classroom projects. "If you have a lot of ideas that could use funding," Jeter said, "fill out applications for each. Once you've been doing this for a while, you'll build up a database of ideas that you can rotate through until the projects get funded."
This can't be overstated, Jeter insisted. "Make sure you use spell check, look for grammatical errors, and double check for clarity throughout the process." It would be a shame, she said, to lose out on a funding opportunity because of a few misspelled words or typographical errors. "But," she warned, "it happens."
Follow Directions, and Be on Time
One of the easiest things to miss, according to Adam Jeter, is simple directions that can mean the difference between getting a check and getting a rejection letter. "Read the directions carefully," he said, and make sure you are paying attention to dates, deadlines, and requirements of the grant. He added, "A teacher at our school who (by the review board's own assessment) had the best proposal of all those considered didn't get the grant because she didn't read the directions well enough and put identifying information about the school in the grant proposal."
Pay Attention to Timing
According to Samantha Jeter, one of the best ways to increase your chances for funding is to apply during the "dry periods." Seek out grants that allow you to apply in May, June, and July. Those are the times when no one is thinking about school and funding needs are farthest from people's minds. "After all," she said, "fewer applicants means better odds."
Maximize the Money
The Jeters also gave advice on how to make grant funds stretch further once you receive the award. Ideas included:
- Talking to your district about deals or discounts with vendors when grant funds are being used;
- Contacting local businesses and ask if they have programs to match grant dollars; and
- Purchasing items that will have longevity beyond the grant funded project or items that can be shared across teachers and classrooms.
Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.