The number one challenge facing K-12 IT leadership for planning and implementing technology enabled environments is budget constraints and a lack of resources, reports the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN).
From IT departments, to transportation, media centers, and anything in between, finding funding in education is always a top challenge.
But there are ways to find funding for your technology programs. You just have to get creative.
An Idea Forms: Mobile Learning Lab
Harris County School District, located in Georgia, has four elementary schools spread out across the county. It is a very diverse area from one end to the other, with pockets of poverty and poor Internet connection.
This school district wanted to be able to reach the communities. They were already providing after school activities and tutoring, but recognized that transportation for students to get to those activities and then back home is often difficult.
Once they started visiting other locations with buses that went out to their communities, an idea was formed. Harris County wanted to create a Mobile Learning Lab of their own that could travel out to the different communities after school and provide a chance for all students to get extra help or more hands-on learning time with resources and educational Internet access on the bus.
But this is not a simple, or free, undertaking, so Harris County turned to their community.
It Takes a Village
They turned to Harris County Family Connection, a nonprofit organization that connects resources in their county. This organization helped Harris County write a grant, formulate a plan, and approach local businesses for additional donations.
The school district had support of their board of education, but went beyond education. They reached out to towns, clubs, civic organizations -- you name it, and they most likely reached out to that group or organization. Penny Reddick, instructional coordinator, Harris County School District said, “It was truly a community effort.”
Penny and her team sent out letters to organizations in the community and offered tiered sponsorships for businesses or individuals to donate. It also involved the team picking up the phone and calling these groups.
But it wasn’t just the technology team. The transportation department purchased an old bus, then completely reconfigured and gutted the bus. High school art students painted the inside and outside of the bus, making it a fun and colorful learning environment!
Spreading the Word to Drive Bus Traffic
Once the Mobile Learning Lab was all set up, Harris County set up a schedule for when the bus would be in different communities. The bus travels and sets up shop at neighborhoods, volunteer fire departments, and recreation centers.
The schedule is regularly updated on their website, posted to their Facebook page, and sent home with all of the students. The schedule is also color-coded, so students know exactly when the bus will be in their part of the community.
To thank the donors, Harris also brought the bus around to show everyone what their contribution has made. This is a great way for the community to experience how their donation is making a positive impact on the education of local students.
Finding Funding Leads to Results
The Mobile Learning Lab has a classroom teacher on board. It travels around the county two to three days a week to different locations, offering Internet powered by the Kajeet SmartBus™ solution to support what students are doing in the classroom. This Wi-Fi access is CIPA-compliant and educationally filtered, ensuring students only access the materials they need for learning.
The bus also has books on board after Harris County hosted a book drive.
“This program just really took the community partners all coming together and supporting this to make it happen.”
-- Penny Reddick, Instructional Coordinator, Harris County School District
Harris County reports great participation so far. One location sees around 25 to 35 children on board each week, but it’s open to adults as well. The goal is to create an environment for families and children to access the Internet and learn together.
Penny reports the classroom teacher on board is doing a wonderful job and she is starting to see repeat students. These students are able to work in small groups or work with the teacher individually.
This incredible Mobile Learning Lab would not have been possible without the community’s help and donations. It is possible to find funding for your technology programs, it just may take some creative thinking and involving the community with education programs.
Has your school or district successfully partnered with the community to expand education opportunities for students? Let us know below! We’d love to hear about your experience and best practices learned.