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Teachers discuss benefits of writing grants

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

While the board of education and West Virginia Department of Education provide funding for schools, many of the programs implemented in Pocahontas County are funded through grants which teachers apply for themselves.

For two Green Bank Elementary-Middle School teachers, grant writing has been a great payoff. Special education and former science teacher Anne Smith and Title I teacher Alesia Wayne recently discussed the number of grants – and amount of money – they have been awarded over the years.

Wayne, who has taught in the county for 30 years, said she added up the various amounts she has received through grants and it totals more than $260,000.

“I was going through a bunch of stuff and I started thinking, ‘geez, you got this grant and you got this grant,’” she said. “It just made me curious. I started adding up all the money I’ve gotten in grants, either written by myself, or – the majority of them – co-authored with somebody else.”

As she thumbed through a folder of grants from the past, she pulled out a piece of paper kept in a plastic sleeve. It was her first grant – Dance: The Universal Language WVE Fund mini grant – $334.83 awarded in 1985.

The page is covered in a familiar shade of brown that all Pocahontas countians can recognize – flood mud.

“This was in my plan book,” she said. “I had eight feet of water in my room and we had these old wooden desks. I left my plan book because Wilma Dale said ‘get out of here.’ I tore out of there and when I got back, you could see – [the water] came right up to the edge. The desk floated up and then it came down. This just had a little bit of water on it.”

Finding that mud-soaked page prompted Wayne to dig deeper in her archives to find other grants she received – the largest of which was $250,000 for Apple computers back in 1997.

Wayne co-authored the grant with Sue Ann Heatherly of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and both entities received Apple computers. It was one of 10 grants awarded in the nation that year.

When Smith joined the staff at GBEMS, Wayne assisted her with writing grants and before long, she was writing as many as she could to build up the science department.

“I wrote a grant to Snowshoe [Foundation] for microscopes and got it,” Smith said. “One of the first grants I ever got. It was addicting. Then I just kind of went from there. I haven’t been successful in all my grants, at all. I’ve written several of them. Mini grants – I cannot get a mini grant to save my life.”

Recently, Wayne and Smith worked together on grants for the Green and Growing initiative at the school and received funding from Dominion, Toshiba and Snowshoe Foundation. The school has received funding for a greenhouse and outdoor education in the past and decided to expand the program, which Smith said is attractive to grantors.

“That’s what we’re doing over here with the greenhouse and growing green,” she said. “We’ve expanded it to include things on the property like the amphitheater and outdoor education places, raised beds, things like that.”

The Snowshoe Foundation grant will purchase eight earth boxes which the students will use to grow strawberries. Wayne plans to work with Extension Agent Greg Hamons and a curriculum she received after a visit to a Morgantown elementary school.

“This summer, I went up to North Elementary School in Morgantown and we did a three day conference there,” she said. “They ended up giving us a notebook that had curriculum lessons. Kindergarten did a whole growing science curriculum on strawberries, first grade did tomatoes, second grade did peppers, third grade did herbs. It goes right up through fifth grade.”

Wayne and Smith have learned to find ways to make the supplies they purchase with grants last longer than just one semester or school year. The earth boxes will be used as long as the plants continue to grow or the boxes hold together.

A lot of Smith’s science projects funded by grants were the same. She purchased kits which could be reused.

“I did math and science camp – those are grants I wrote for the after-school program,” she said. “They were ten thousand dollar grants because we had people and it was a two week camp. That funded a lot of my science classes because in camp, we dissected frogs, so we needed the dissection kit. I used that kit every year for the next twelve years.”

Through trial and error, the two have learned how to make the most of their grants. Wayne also uses her experience as a grant reviewer on the Education Alliance board to assist with grant writing.

“They would send us, sometimes, up to seventy-five, eighty of these grants to look at,” she said. “The first thing I would do is, I would look at the titles and if there was a title that jumped out at me and made me curious, I’d put it over in this pile. The next thing, if it was too sloppy and I had trouble reading it, it just went right in the pitch.”

The experience as a grant reviewer gave Wayne ideas for projects to implement herself and made the time worthwhile, although it was sometimes taxing.

“If they had the right buzz words; if they answered all the questions; if they had a good evaluation at the end; those were the grants that had the potential to get the award,” Wayne said. “I enjoyed doing that because then it gave me ideas.”

While grant writing is time consuming, difficult and funding is never guaranteed, Smith said it is something every teacher should at least try.

“I think it is not a waste of time,” she said. “I think it helps teaching. You learn how you’re going to do [the project] and how it’s set up. It is helping me in my teaching. I wouldn’t be able to do what I did in science without those grants. Because of that extra money, I was, and that was the incentive.”

For teachers new to grant writing, Wayne and Smith suggest they talk to seasoned teachers who have written grants or know where to find them. They also suggest networking with teachers from other schools while attending professional development workshops.

“It goes hand-in-hand with professional development,” Smith said. “You go to those professional developments and then you come back to write the grants to do projects you learned about or, you get your stuff and then you write a grant for more.”
If all else fails, just “Google It.”

“I go online and do searches,” Smith said. “I wanted games for the classrooms so I just typed in ‘grants for educational games,’ and that was a good starting point.”

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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