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Businesses Provide Supplies, Grant Money


Office supply companies often find themselves paying to store extra inventory or have it carted away. But the Kids In Need Foundation matches companies with schools that need supplies and helps teachers fund innovative lessons. Included: A description of how Kids In Need works.

With money and supplies always running short in schools, many teachers have to forego more creative lessons or even pay for classroom basics out of their own pockets.

But help is available from the SHOPA Kids In Need Foundation, which donates supplies to schools and funds innovative teacher projects. The supplies and grants come from members of the School, Home, and Office Products Association (SHOPA) and other donors.

Kathy Spencer, director of the Kids In Need Foundation, talked with Education World about how Kids In Need is helping schools and teachers and raising awareness about the disparities in school funding.

"Throughout the country, there were businesses that were putting excess inventory into landfills or into storage -- inventory that would be perfectly good to be utilized by students," says Kathy Spencer, director of the Kids In Need Foundation.

Education World: Why was Kids In Need founded?

Kathy Spencer: Throughout the country, there were businesses that were putting excess inventory into landfills or into storage -- inventory that would be perfectly good to be utilized by students. At the same time, throughout the country, there were teachers and students who simply did not have the school products they needed to effectively learn and teach -- and teachers, on average, were spending upwards of $2,000 of their own money each year to buy school supplies for their students. We believed we could bring the two together, and instead of filling landfills, let's fill the minds of the next generation.

EW: Who funds the teacher grants?

Spencer: Retail stores and education credit unions sponsors fund the grants.

EW: Who are the primary beneficiaries of Kids In Need?

Spencer: Teachers at income-eligible schools are able to apply for teacher grants and are able to shop free of charge at any of our 21 distribution centers nationwide so their students have much needed educational supplies. Businesses that support Kids In Need also benefit by utilizing reverse logistics -- they earn tax credits, and the support of the program is proven to bolster their brand.

EW: About how many grants are awarded a year?

Spencer: For the 2004-2005 academic year, the SHOPA Kids In Need Foundation awarded more than $77,000 to 180 teachers from a field of more than 1,800 grant applications. Teacher Grant awards range from $100 to $500 each and are used to finance creative classroom projects. Typically, between 170 and 200 grants are awarded each year.

EW: What are some of the criteria used to select grant recipients?

Spencer: According to the application, the purpose of the grants is to provide funds for classroom teachers who have innovative, meritorious ideas but lack the budget to bring them to life. A project may qualify for funding if it makes creative use of common teaching aids, approaches the curriculum from an imaginative angle, or ties nontraditional concepts together for the purpose of illustrating commonalities. Innovation and merit account for 40 percent of the evaluation. The project should engage the students in hands-on activities that lead to the acquisition of new knowledge, awareness, or self-discovery.

EW: Can you give me examples of some projects that have been funded?

Spencer: The Kids in Need Web sites lists a project that consisted of remaking a Twilight Zone episode in its entirety from the original script. Students cast the drama, built the sets, designed and rigged the lighting and sound, applied the make-up, ran the cameras, edited the video tape, designed the titles and credits, and put on an event for the premiere showing of the completed video.

In another project, students designed and built a battery-operated vehicle with a wheelbase of 40 centimeters, designed to be mathematically accurate to travel and stop at any designated point between 1 and 10 meters.

The foundation also donated school supplies to schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

EW: How, if at all, have teacher needs changed over the past ten years?

Spencer: It's not so much the teachers as the needs of the students continue to increase. The digital divide is probably the biggest problem. The more affluent students have access to the latest and greatest, while those in poorer neighborhoods don't even have pencils and paper. This becomes a self-fulfilling situation where the poorer schools are simply not equipped to educate the next generation and we continue to have a growing divide between the haves and have nots. This is obviously not a good situation, and thankfully, Kids In Need is able to help bridge that gap and give teachers some tools to make that difference on the basic level.

This e-interview with Kathy Spencer is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 11/16/2005; updated 06/28/2007