7 Questions to Ask About Your School Fundraiser

Fundraising season is in full swing. On the one hand, I completely understand the sad need for fundraising in our underfunded schools; on the other, I am growing increasingly concerned about our tactics.  The more I consider my own experiences, from childhood through adulthood, the more full of questions I become. Here are a few so far:

Do the prizes for top sellers tend to go toward one racial or economic group of students? I still remember the name of the boy who won the top prizes every year when I was in elementary school; his dad was a surgeon, which also meant his work colleagues were able to load him up with purchases. If a fundraiser serves to reward kids who are already privileged, we should re-evaluate.

Do the prizes highlight haves & have-not’s in any way? My first job after graduation was at a school that used school uniforms. Students who brought $1 on the last day of each month were permitted to dress in casual clothes the next day. Though this was a more affluent area, I was still horrified to see how it shamed the few students left in uniform who could not afford it (often because they had a lot of siblings). We should be wary to avoid creating such a spotlight.

Are there ways to celebrate school-wide efforts? My daughter’s school is planning to have a school-wide special assembly to celebrate everyone’s efforts (whether they were able to sell or not). I love this because it builds school-spirit and removes individual pressure from students.

Do the prizes create status issues among students? Winning badges & trinkets for selling X amount may seem trivial to us, but within kids’ social circles, they can MATTER. SO. MUCH. We must be careful not to add to their burdens, especially when so much is out of their control. And we must protect the privacy and dignity of families who may be struggling.

Are there more discreet ways to fundraise? Amazon Smile gives .5% of all purchases, the annual Target grant offers $700 for field trips, several chain restaurants offer portions of meals, DonorsChoose, adding a donation button to your school Facebook page (100% goes toward your school), & more.

Are the prizes actually attainable? If we’re pulling students from valuable classroom time to be dazzled at an assembly by prizes they are unlikely to even earn, we might want to revisit our approach.

Are you selling something the community wants? Try asking what the community would be interested in purchasing before deciding on that year’s fundraiser. Do they really want more wrapping paper, or maybe they’d prefer bags of potatoes from local markets? Or maybe they really would just prefer a donate button on your school’s website or social media page. Whatever the case, if we’re going to ask students to solicit the community, we should do our homework first in finding out what the community wants.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Messy Beautiful Learning Happens When… #TeacherMom

…play is seen for what it really is: “the work of childhood.”

…children are permitted to make a space their own.

the desk of the 4 year old. Play dough, dinosaurs, magnetic letters, arctic animals, and some super heroes, all with an important and cohesive role for him.

…they are permitted choose to toss the instruction manuals, mix-and-match, and re-imagine what’s possible.

She decided to mix all the “sets” together to design her own city.

…they are encouraged to plan their time while also given the skills to identify balance and foresight.

…we stand ready to guide, shape, and support their inquiries, while also respecting their choices, voices, and sometimes messy ownership.

via Kath Murdoch’s blog

…we respect our students as the human beings they are, giving feedback grounded in relationships rather than judgement. (much less tidy than a clip chart for behavior, but much more likely to yield growth and learning).

What do you find to be the best conditions for messy, beautiful learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Announcing the 2019 Scholarship!

I’m excited to announce the 2019 scholarship here at HonorsGradU, sponsored by Honors Graduation.

We were overwhelmed at the ways high school seniors worked to improve their communities last year, and so we have decided to continue the design thinking community improvement format. Once more this year, there will be another five $10,000 tuition scholarships awarded, with the top recipient receiving another $5,000 toward another iteration of his/her project.

Check out the new requirements and information here, and please share with any high school seniors planning on attending an accredited college in the United States next fall.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Bryan

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

The response to the scholarship was incredibly inspiring this year. What started 5 years ago as a small program has grown beyond our expectations. We wanted to see the students doing more for their communities, starting conversations, and inspiring people. So we raised the stakes and offered five $10,000 scholarships with the top recipient receiving an additional $5,000 to further fund their projects.

I had the opportunity to speak with our top recipient, Bryan Banuelos. Bryan comes to us from Taylorsville, Utah where he recently graduated from Taylorsville High School. Originally, he is from Mexico and he came to Utah to pursue a higher education. After speaking with Bryan, it became clear that he is very passionate about his work this year. One of his advisors at school is an advocate for undocumented students at Taylorsville High. Bryan was inspired by her to create “The Warrior Dream” program to reach more undocumented students and to help them achieve higher education.

As he launched his project, Bryan was able to break through one of the biggest stereotypes, “all undocumented students are Latino/Hispanic.” This helped him to broaden his perspective as well as to understand what it truly means to be undocumented. He has been able to work with many students who are struggling to afford college. His biggest hope is that the program will inspire these students to push through the barriers and achieve all that they aspire to achieve.

Through this experience, Bryan says he has gained skills in making connections, scheduling interviews, and building responsibility and leadership. This has allowed him to share all of his knowledge and ideas with those who also want to be a part of the program. He has also learned to listen other ideas and inquiries. The most important lesson, however, has been discovering that everyone has the capacity to help their community or enhance it in some way, shape or form. Bryan describes this experience as one of the most rewarding and satisfying he has had in his life so far.

Bryan has been happy and surprised to see that the community aspect of his program is growing the fastest . Multiple students have reached out to him to become a part of the Warrior Dream Program. The more he talks about it with them, the more interested and inspired they become. He says the best part of increasing connections is the number of ideas and suggestions he has received, as well as witnessing the growing creativity and enthusiasm for the program. Some students have offered to donate piano presentations for fundraisers while others have offered to serve as intermediates between the program and the school. Today, the Warrior Dream Program is composed of seven people, and they will soon host a meeting to plan for the next school year. Bryan has also increased connections by speaking with Granite School District, The Dream Center at the University of Utah, The Chicano/Chicana Scholarship Fund, Gear Up, AVID, and the Latinos in Action advisors. He hopes these connections will bring more opportunity and growth for years to come. Because he is the top recipient, he received a $5,000 grant. He has plans to put this back into the program mainly for a scholarship, but to also fund the program expenses and pay for fundraisers. Regarding the community aspect, an essential goal is to host fundraisers throughout the year to raise funds for a scholarship for one undocumented student per year at Taylorsville High School.

Bryan is a graduate of the class of 2018 at Taylorsville High School and he will be continuing his education this fall at The University of Utah. He still plans to be a part of The Warrior Dream program as much as he can; however, he trusts that he has people with the same goals and aspirations as him to continue with his vision for the undocumented students of Taylorsville High. Bryan’s work has been truly inspiring for his family, peers, teachers, as well as all of us at Honors Grad U. Congratulations Bryan, we know you will do amazing things for years to come!

Link to donate to the scholarship he has since founded through a local school district foundation can be found here.

See other awardees’ interviews here:

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Austin

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

Austin Fitzgerald recently graduated from The Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Having always been passionate about playing the violin, she received one of the $10,000 HGU Build a Better Future scholarships for her work in developing the Mindstrings program in her local community. Her father works as a teacher in the local public school where she saw first-hand the disadvantages that these students face every day. After seeing the vast difference between public and private schools in Charlotte and the lack of funding in public schools, she felt compelled to action. Through Mindstrings, she devotes a large portion of her time interacting with and helping low-income students to implement music into their education.

The Mindstrings program is currently in place at Sedgefield Middle School in Charlotte North Carolina where she works closely with the school orchestra. She has been able to give free violin lessons to students at the school in both private and group settings, where she also provides the instruments. With permission from the principal at Sedgefield, she is able to use the school facility to the hold the group lessons and has been able to continue this throughout the summer. For the private lessons, she travels to the students and teaches them in their homes. When I asked Austin how she feels that this has impacted her community, she said that this hasn’t just impacted the students, but also their families. She is welcomed into their homes and they are very grateful for what she is doing for them.

Austin is a self-proclaimed introvert and this program has helped her to put herself out there to be more outgoing. She has also refined her presentation and networking skills through the process of creating, designing, implementing and maintaining Mindstrings. Through her desire to increase funding for Mindstrings to take root in her community, she has gained confidence in herself to present her ideas and gain those relationships. In doing so, Austin was successful in gaining 3 violin donations from the Charlotte Latin Service Council as well as the Latin Arts Association

One of her biggest hopes for Mindstrings is to be able to expand the program to more schools. She is currently negotiating with a second school in the area to get the program going for the upcoming school year! Austin is also working on implementing Mindstrings as an officially sanctioned volunteer opportunity for upper middle and high school students in the Charlotte area. With that, she would love to have a formal program within Mindstrings to teach students proper etiquette when volunteering with low-income students. Austin says that she has learned a lot about herself as a person, an advocate and a community activist. She hopes that this will also inspire the participants, to also give back to their communities, building an even larger collective impact. She shares, “By providing the skill of learning to play an instrument or helping in classrooms, these students are acquiring not only the skill of playing an instrument, but also the cognitive skills that come along with it; such as a stronger attention span and the practice of discipline and hard work. It also provides mentorship to students in the program.”

While Mindtrings is currently a small program in Charlotte, she plans on taking it with her while she attends school at the University of Chicago in the fall and hopes that she will be able to expand Mindstrings. She aspires to turn Mindstrings into a non-profit organization, build a website and obtain more scholarships and donations to help her program flourish. After she is able to reach non-profit status, she will replicate herself and establish a board of directors with a Community Development staff of volunteers to continue this work locally. She feels that a strong foundation for students in low-income communities must be provided to access their potential and continue on to a higher education.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Isaac

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

Isaac Stone, a recent graduate from LASA High School, was challenged by his engineering teacher to create something that involved engineering. For the past 2 years he has been volunteering with the non-profit group, Texas Rowing For All, which focuses on bringing rowing and paddle sports to people with varying disabilities or impairments. Both of these factors inspired him to create the Invisible Cane, which emits sound to help blind people navigate their surroundings. His work earned him one of the $10,000 HGU scholarships this year.

Two things stood out to him most when working with those with visual impairments. For them to get into a boat meant largely relying on someone else for guidance and the obstacles that they could run into while in a boat are not within reach of a standard cane, until it’s too late to avoid a crash. The Invisible Cane doesn’t have the distance limitations of a standard physical cane, which would help people who are blind or have visual impairments become more independent on the water. A primary goal of Isaac’s is to allow the people with visual impairments the ability to independently row in places where programs such as Texas Rowing For All don’t exist. In addition, this will allow program volunteers to devote more resources to the parts of the community where visual impairments don’t apply.

When Isaac first started on his project, he created a prototype for the Invisible Cane. However, through more research and feedback from mentors and those in the blind community, he decided to develop an app for phones. Doing this will solve most of the current issues associated with cost and scaling, as he won’t be developing a physical product any longer. The majority of Isaac’s programming knowledge is self-taught and he plans to learn more to be able to be able develop the app. In the meantime, he will continue to volunteer with the Texas Rowing For All community. He hopes that as time goes on, his app will become widely accessible, easy to use, and highly functional for those in the blind community.

Throughout this process, Isaac has learned a lot about himself and how to challenge himself in different ways. He has learned that being a risk-taker can help him achieve his goals, even on a time-crunch. He also discovered that he already has a network of people to whom he can turn to for help, which has been a great resource to help him understand what this kind of process takes. Currently, he is working on getting in contact with a woman in his area that works with people who have recently lost their vision. She helps them learn to use a cane and to adjust to their new situations. He is hopeful that she will be able to help him better understand what is most important for their navigation needs. In addition, he would like to conduct navigation experiments himself without the benefit of sight to gain further understanding on how he can be more effective and understanding. Isaac says that through this process, he has been drawn to people with ambitious goals, good work ethics, and an abundance of self-awareness. He believes that this has been the most valuable and encouraging outcome of his project.

Isaac will continue his education at the College of Engineering at Washington University-St. Louis. His hope is to increase independence and power of an often-overlooked group within our society with the Invisible Cane. He wants to help these people build their capabilities and put them on par with the general population, which will allow them to integrate into society rather than remain dependent on others for companionship and aid.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Lexi

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

With the degree to which our lives have become online, can you imagine the hindrance of being unable to navigate technology? Inspired by her Grandparents, Lexi Showalter decided to take action in her community and that is how CyberCitizens began. Her goal was to bridge the generational gap and facilitate the younger generation to teach senior citizens technical skills. Her work earned her one of the five $10,000 HGU Build A Better Future scholarships.

Lexi noticed how often her Grandparents would come to her for their technology needs; her friends and peers were also having the same experiences. Instead of doing it all for them, Lexi wanted to help them gain both independence and confidence. In the class she hosted for her project, she was able to interact with multiple senior citizens, with overall positive feedback. Participants appreciated that she was very direct and to the point. She was able to help them feel good about themselves as they learned skills that were out of their comfort zones.

CyberCitizens isn’t just focused on teaching tech skills to senior citizens. One of her other big goals is to to encourage the younger generation to take on leadership roles by teaching these classes. Lexi plans to target millenials who tend to know more about technology, giving them the opportunity to gain life experiences and learn to lead others by teaching these classes. She feels like this is a great way to better connect her community and hopes to be able to recruit both college and high school students. Creating this has helped Lexi to be more outgoing and she knows this can help her peers do the same. Lexi has also been able to get family members involved with teaching their grandparents and parents to interact with them in a different way. She feels like this has been one of the most positive outcomes of her program.

Lexi’s biggest hope for CyberCitizens is for her students to really pick up on the information that they are being taught and to make them more independent. She feels strongly that this can help with their overall quality of life, not only because of the skills themselves, but because of the way learning new skills helps curtail brain decline. Taking these classes will also help the social isolation issues that our aging population frequently faces. She hopes that one day, she will be able to teach classes at nursing homes where residents have little to no contact with the outside world. These classes could help them to interact with more people and to also learn ways that they can connect with their families with things such as Facetime and Skype.

Ultimately, Lexi plans to do extensive work in taking CyberCitizens from what it is now to a non-profit business where multiple classes are offered. In these classes, she would like to focus on topics such as photo sharing, communication, online safety, and social media. She hopes that she will be able to trademark the flip-books she created for CyberCitizens, and develop more flip-books that are focused on the different classes being taught. Lexi recently graduation from Normal Community High School in Illinois. She will be attending Illinois State University in the fall, where she hopes to connect with more people to join her in CyberCitizens. Since her new school is in the town she is from, she will continue to grow CyberCitizens as she goes to college.