How SLJ's 2018 School Librarian of the Year Gets the Grants

Ali Schilpp, media specialist at Northern Middle School in Accident, MD, shares her experience and expertise securing funds.

Grant writing and securing funds is never a guaranteed success, but I never stop trying, because I simply don’t have the budget or salary to provide the library program that I feel my kids deserve.

I’m always searching for incentives and gifts to make this happen, to innovate and show that our school library is always evolving. Library programs in schools with students from lower-income families are often sacrificed when budgets are cut. Having previously worked in a district that was supported with a healthy, dependable budget—and then trying to provide the same level of resources for my rural community school now —has made me more creative about funding. What if we could provide our students with all the resources and prestige that we see in private and specialized schools?

In our school, students’ participation in field trips, recreation, and enrichment programs are dependent on family support. Because I know that our community is already overwhelmed financially, I feel more comfortable applying for grants and holding contests in lieu of fundraising and crowdsourcing. Here are some of my strategies.

Apply for all grants, large and small

Every successful initiative involves a partnership based on collaboration. Nothing is done alone in our library. My greatest partners are my students.

Our very first collaboration involved my library student helpers. We made a promotional video about why our library was so important for American Association of School Librarians (AASL) School Library Month. They performed and recorded original music for the production—and won. Since there were only three entries and no monetary award, the win was mostly about recognizing that middle school students could express the importance of their school library. Once we cracked the nut, we had the confidence to go for the big prize and entered the American Library Association’s (ALA) “Why I Need My Library” contest. As the middle grade runners-up, we received $2,000 for our school library.

Grants don’t need be large to get an initiative going. I‘ve seen remarkable things accomplished with the promise of a $25 gift card. An honorable mention from Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors contest earned $500 Scholastic dollars to build a classroom library for our English-language learners (ELL) program. The students had the freedom to spend the money and select all their book choices independently. This was a powerful accomplishment. The money was greatly appreciated, but the actual book project that students created was the greatest reward. Sure, we could collaborate and write a book at any time, but a contest provides guidelines and, most importantly, a deadline. Due dates are always the best motivation for completion.

Scholastic has so many contests and grant opportunities that support my biggest initiative: access to beloved books. Scholastic has also helped in other ways. A social media post displaying our students reading books over the summer resulted in a small collection of popular titles. A “best book fair theme” contest yielded $500. A second-time proposal to the Patterson Pledge earned $4,500 to create a “House of Robots,” which provided books and bots for our makerspace.

Revel in your successes

The greatest gift and the best two days of my library career occurred this spring when Scholastic provided a free book for every student in my school as part of the 2018 School Librarian of the Year award. Scholastic Book Fairs delivered the greatest selection of books that I had ever seen. This honors the vision of Scholastic’s Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher—aka Mr. Schu—of providing student choice. In middle school, students’ ages and interests vary widely, but there was a book that appealed to every student. Students still ask about Mr. Schu. It's so important for kids to have books in the home and to own their own.

In 2015, a grant by Maryland Digital Learning provided our library with Google Chromebooks, green screen studio equipment, and LEGO robotics. One of the main drivers was my position—the fact that our district had provided a certified media specialist in the middle school to support and implement the initiative. This had the greatest impact on establishing a new library program and upgrading our rural community school status of digital access from “getting by” to excelling beyond expectations. We proved that a successful school library program and digital equity can and should occur in any location with all students.

I had previously applied for Ready to Code funding from ALA funding and was denied, but in December 2018, I received a micro grant to host a school-wide Hour of Code. This has parlayed into other opportunities, such as starting a Girls Who Code club, which gifts $300 to purchase supplies and food for students during meetings.

We recently received $1,000 from a community grant to buy more books for our PAWS to READ program. Lessons that include animals are the most engaging to my students. My library helpers have inquired about having a library pet. We applied for a small Pets in the Classroom grant, a gift of $75-$150 to get started. Most educators usually provide this on their own, but I feel that we should stop reaching into our pockets when there are so many opportunities available to help our kids. The more we apply for and support grants, the more the need is seen. It is very important to highlight how grants have improved the lives of your students.

Grants for librarians

Awards and grants have also provided professional development and resources, including the chance for me to attend the ISTE Conference and the Scholastic Reading Summit. They’ve allowed me to grow the library collection, create a makerspace, support robotics and STEAM challenges, and host author visits.

This is a crucial time for our profession; promoting strong library programs is paramount to our future. A huge benefit to requesting funds for your school library is that as the school librarian, you provide exposure to multiple literacies, experiences, and resources for all. Your impact has the potential to improve the lives of everyone in your school, and this should never be taken for granted.

Tips

• Create a clear vision and timeline for accomplishing the project. Don’t overreach. If you promise too much, it will seem impractical.

• Highlight what teachers and students will bring to the table and the positive impacts your initiative will have on them.

• Make sure you understand and show how you will measure your success.

• Provide a clear, transparent budget focused on the needed materials or resources.

• Consider if the program will sustain beyond the life of the grant.

• Share your proposal with a colleague to see if they can easily answer the five W's—who, what, where, when, and why—and the H question—how. If so, your vision is clear.

• Chin up! Don’t get discouraged from a rejection or take it personally. If it's an annual opportunity and you re-apply, it shows dedication to your cause.

• Reflect on your proposal. Research past recipients and seek feedback. They already won and have nothing to lose by helping you.

• Onward! Don’t let a good idea go to waste. Within every library proposal, there is a plan to help kids. Apply it to another funding source.

 

Ali Schilpp is SLJ ’s 2018 School Librarian of the Year and media specialist at Northern Middle School in Accident, MD.

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