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Student Spellers
Earn Dollars for Schools

While looking for ways to raise money without spending money, a retired teacher heard about a spell-a-thon at another school and brought the idea to her former colleagues. Pledges students earned for correctly-spelled words yielded $15,000 for the school. Included: Suggestions for organizing, promoting a spell-a-thon.

With money and class time in short supply at many schools, one school combined fundraising with learning and challenged its students to seek pledges for correctly-spelled words.


Click on these links to read Allen Avenues flyers that publicized the spell-a-thon and asked for pledges:

Spell-A-Thon announcement

How to Ask for Pledges

The Allen Avenue Elementary School Spell-a-Thon yielded $15,000 for technology equipment for the San Dimas, California, school. All of the schools 510 K-5 students registered; even the kindergarteners participated by taking oral spelling tests.

In these economic times -- with people losing their jobs -- the fact that we raised $15,000 is amazing to me, said Allen principal Debbie McCaleb. Even parents who dont like fundraising projects praised this event.


Rosemary Henderson, a retired teacher who ran the spell-a-thon, heard that a school in a neighboring district hosted a spell-a-thon and thought it would be a good project for Allen. All schools are looking for ways to make money with minimal investment, noted Henderson, who retired from her position running the schools computer lab in 2007. Most of the other fundraisers require you to spend money. With this, the money goes straight to school programs and the kids learn something.

Henderson got some help from some other retirees. She is a member of an informal group of retired Allen teachers who continue to volunteer at the school. We call ourselves the Old Bats and Buzzards, she joked, bats being the women and buzzards the men.

In January, classes in each grade were assigned a list of 100 spelling and vocabulary words to study over the course of a month. Teachers compiled the lists; in the case of the first graders, the words were from a list students were required to know by the end of the year. Students also received pledge envelopes and were instructed to ask people to make a flat donation or pledge an amount per correctly-spelled word.

With this, the money goes straight to school programs and the kids learned something.

As an added incentive, half of the money each classroom raised could be used for equipment in that room. The other half went into the total for the school. Teachers who were the most successful [raising money] were the ones who explained to the kids how the money would be used [in the classroom], Henderson said.

The fact that the money was earmarked for technology also motivated people to pledge money, McCaleb added.

The spelling tests took place over a two-week period. Fifty-eight students got all 100 words right, according to Henderson, and 143 were in the 90th percentile.

All students who participated received a small gift, such as a coupon for a hamburger from a fast-food chain. Other prizes, such as ribbons, stuffed animals, books, and gift certificates to stores and restaurants were awarded to students who spelled the most words correctly and raised the most money. The district covers two towns and the local merchants were very generous, Henderson said. Some of the retired teachers helped out at the awards ceremony.


All schools are looking for ways to make money with minimal investment.

The money students raised will be used to purchase equipment for the school such as electronic white boards, and classroom teachers upgraded their equipment as well. Depending on how much the class raised, teachers purchased items such as digital cameras and iPod shuffles. Some of the kindergarten teachers got the iPods so children could listen to a story while looking at a book, Henderson said.

Henderson plans to run the spell-a-thon again next year with some help from the PTA. Its absolutely worth doing again, Henderson said.