Finding extra funds for classroom projects can be challenging for teachers, especially those teaching in a district with a stretched budget.
First grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teacher, Stephanie Giddens, is one teacher in Webster Parish who is looking for alternative ways to raise funds.
"I believe all children have the right to a meaningful educational experience," Giddens said. "I can lecture the class about the life cycle of a butterfly or I can allow them the meaningful experience of watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly. Which would you remember more?"
Giddens has written several grants including the KTBS One Class at a Time grant and a Del Monte Health Education Grant.
The Del Monte grant is open to voters and if Giddens receives the most votes, she could win $750 for her class.
She has also written a grant on Donors Choose which allows donations of various amounts to purchase materials.
Sonic has teamed up with Donors Choose and is funding the grant, which receives the most votes through their Limeades for Learning promotion that ends on September 30.
Giddens said she has not set an end goal for her fund-raising efforts.
"(I need to raise) as much as I can," she said. "This is my first year as a STEM teacher, I really need more science and engineering materials.
"I run a very hands-on classroom, she continued. "Children learn by exploring, manipulating, and hands-on problem solving."
In order to promote those learning methods Giddens is hoping for materials such as safety goggles, a classroom scale, and a digital microscope.
"The item that is number one on my wish list is a LEGO robotics kit for my classroom," Giddens sad.
According to Giddens, teachers can receive up to $250 reimbursement for items purchased for their classrooms.
"I usually receive the reimbursement for beginning of the year needs such as new name tags, calendars, labels, pencil sharpeners, etc," she said. "These items seem small but when purchased in classroom quantities, add up quickly."
Giddens said she has spent approximately $500 so far this year on her classroom, and will likely spend the $250 reimbursement on her classroom as well.
"Since I changed schools this year there were many things I needed in order to set up my classroom," Giddens said. "Decorations are not cheap, but it is important that the children have a positive learning environment."
Giddens purchased new shelves, hooks, storage bins, pocket charts, posters, rugs, new reading games and books. Among the many expenses Giddens said she will also purchase games, stickers, small toys (for rewards), candy and books throughout the year.
"Our parish is very supportive and will work with us to fund many opportunities," she said. "But the money can only stretch so far which is why more and more teachers are writing grant proposals. I believe our Parish has a lot of hard-working teachers who are passionate about their jobs and want the best for their students."
Giddens said in addition to staff and administrative support, she has wonderful parent involvement.
"There is no better gift for a teacher than for a parent to recognize their efforts," she said. "Thankfully, I can say that I have awesome parent support. It is encouraging for our efforts to be recognized and supported."
Teachers, such as Giddens, who have grants on Donors Choose can be found by searching for teachers by location at the website donorschoose.org.
"People can also support efforts by becoming involved with the PTOs at the schools," Giddens suggest. "There are many ways to get involved that don't include cash donations. The gift of time is always appreciated as well."
For ways to support education in Webster Parish, contact your local school or teacher to ask how your time or donations can be best used.
(Editors note: If you know of any teachers who are looking for funding through alternative means, such as grants or contests, or have a new or special project in their class, call the Minden Press-Herald and request contact information for reporter Jeri Bloxom.)