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I’ve written previously about grant-seeking and its challenges for a small school such as my employer. Now comes the rest of the story, as last June, a generous grant offer arrived in my inbox. We almost turned it down.
The offer would fund a new Reading Room for our school, paying $17,500 to help provide an attractive, quiet place for students to read. The brochure showed examples of how other schools had transformed an area of their campus with furniture, decor, and books. The funds specified the project, the square footage required, and the procedure. Besides that, there were some annual reports to submit. We hadn’t thought of a Reading Room project. Nor did we have the space to allocate for it. Or did we? We exchanged e-mails with the coordinator, at first saying we didn’t qualify, and then, responding to encouragement from the organization, agreeing to have the coordinator visit our campus and take a look.
It’s a good thing we capitulated because we ended up with a beautiful ocean-themed Reading Room in our library that the students love to visit. The project enhanced the appearance our older, small library and helped us make progress on what had been stubborn school improvement goals–those of scoring grants for more books and encouraging students to read for leisure. The organization, Carson Scholars Fund, turned out to be excellent to work with. They managed the money and the process carefully–sending step-by-step guidelines as we approached key checkpoints, having us submit expenses for reimbursement or share online shopping carts, assigning a staff member to communicate with us, and arranging a campus visit to verify progress.
Nearly $8,000 of the grant went to books–any books we wanted that would encourage leisure reading. This was a sum we had not imagined in previous grant-seeking, and we have not spent it all yet. Besides that, all the orders generated “points” in one of our accounts with which we could order more books for our regular school collection. The librarian and I enjoyed our shopping spree, although I’m thankful the librarian took on most of the actual ordering, as coming up with a list of 500-plus worthy books for K-12 is a lot of work. But the most fun was spending the $4,500 allotted for decor. The librarian and I found a parent with decorator savvy and after several months, flurries of e-mail exchanges, video meetings, browsing of websites with lovely furniture and knick-knacks (more than you or my boss would like to know about), some dead ends, and a too-small rug that we had to work around, we ended up with what is probably the most attractive Reading Room in the area (we might be a little biased).
In November, we hosted Carson Scholars Fund representatives for the Opening Day of our Think Big Reading Room. For the school assembly, the teachers had coordinated student writing tasks at all grade levels, and the best pieces were selected to be read by their authors, recognized with prizes, and displayed near the Reading Room. Also recognized was winning student artwork that provided some of the decoration for the walls of the reading space. A few people attended a ribbon-cutting in the library. From the video and pictures, I could see that it was a day of all-around good feelings. Soon after, the librarian posted photos of students lounging in the room with their books. The Reading Room continues to be a popular, yet quiet hangout for Kindergarten up through senior high.
That’s not all. Carson Scholars Fund is affiliated with Ben and Candy Carson. Ben Carson attributes his success to the fact that when he was young, his mother encouraged him to read, even though she herself did not know how. The Carson’s nonprofit provides scholarships and sponsors Reading Rooms to create more opportunities for students to “Think Big” about life’s possibilities. This week, Candy Carson visited our school. She spoke to our assembled elementary students and then read to our second graders up in the Reading Room. It was another positive visit from an organization using its resources to do good for our children in public and private schools.