Last month we talked about how to apply for grant funding to support small projects in the classroom. As teachers dream about how to bring innovative hands-on projects to their students, many of their dreams will grow and teachers will begin to be frustrated with the dollar limitations of these grants. Today’s blog will talk about how to develop high quality large classroom projects that can still be supported by grant funding.

The most common way to do this is to build mini-projects within your large project. My big dream was to build a multi-media music education classroom where my students could learn to play the piano, learn music theory, train their ear, and learn to compose. The budget quickly grew over $25,000 and I despaired as my school was not a non-profit 501(c)3 organization (more about this part later).

But as I looked into the small classroom grants available to me, I started to see mini-projects for my students. With $1,000 I bought 5 MIDI-enabled electronic pianos where my students could start to learn the piano. With another $1,000 I bought a computer and software for music theory, ear training, and composition. When I talked to the software vendor, I explained that I was applying for a grant, but the grant had a limit. I asked him if there was any way he could give me a deal on software which had multiple user licenses. Even though I only had one computer at the time, I was able to get a discount on software that could be used for five computers. My next grant for $2,500 got me the computers I needed (in addition to one provided to me by the school district) and now with only $4,500 I had a mini-lab of 5 computers, 5 keyboards, and software for my students.

This allowed me to start showing the impact my project was having upon the learning of my students. Gathering data from a pilot project, showing pre- and post-test data of students’ learning convinced other funders that my project was really having an educational impact. This type of data, plus showing that other funders had supported my project, shows funders of larger grants that my project is not too risky to support. It also had the benefit of being pretty sustainable.

My challenge was that many larger funders wanted to fund a non-profit organization, which my school was not. So instead, partnering with non-profit who is already associated with your school can help you with this challenge. Options may include your school’s PTA, an afterschool provider, or an educational non-profit organization in your town. Check with your principal and/or school district administrator to see what rules may exist for these types of partnerships. There should also be a memorandum of understanding which allows for both organizations to get support from the grant, while still allowing you to keep control over the materials in your classroom.

You might also contact the funder directly to see if they are interested in supporting your project. But before you do this, you will want to talk with your principal and/or school district administrator to make sure that they are not already planning to submit a project to the same funder. Everyone loses if teachers, schools, and school districts do not work together with large grant projects. A clear, coordinated plan gives funders the confidence to invest in education in their local schools.