By BARBARA LUTZ
With back-to-school sales in full swing and the talk of districts requesting property tax increases to boost school funding, it's hard to forget that summer vacation quickly is coming to a close.
There's simply no denying that teachers and students alike would benefit from a little extra cash for supplies. Parents can volunteer time and talent in a variety of ways throughout the school year, but for those who want to make a tangible donation it can be difficult to figure out the best way to contribute.
Here are three ways to help local schools and students.
Stuff the Bus
Stuff the Bus, the signature project of the Junior League of Bryan-College Station is officially under way and preparing for the 2009-10 school year. This project is a community-wide effort to collect school supplies for children in need.
Stuff the Bus began in 2000 when Jeannie McGuire, founder and president of Project Unity in Bryan, was looking for a way to satisfy the overwhelming need for school supplies for area children.
"The Junior League was looking to start a signature program, so I wrote up the grant for Junior League to take over Stuff the Bus as their signature project," said McGuire. "It was the perfect partnership."
Project Unity is the voice for community needs in the Bryan-College Station area. Group members work to find partners for programs or do what they can to meet the needs themselves.
Last year, Stuff the Bus provided school supplies to more than 11,000 B-CS students. This year, Sherry Jennings, president of the Junior League, said there is a predicted increase of 1,000-1,500 students from last year as the need in the area has grown.
The Junior League provides supplies to all elementary schools in the area based on the number of children who are on the federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Each student in that program receives free school supplies from the Junior League. The supplies are delivered to each classroom before the first day of school so that they are ready and waiting for the students.
Some middle and high schools in the area are also provided with supplies based on need. And in recent years, Jennings said, the program has provided high school students in need with gift cards so that they can purchase more expensive specialty items, such as calculators.
The Junior League accepts all school supplies or cash gifts at the Stuff the Bus drives.
"Every student needs the basic supplies to go back to school," Jennings said. "Everything is greatly appreaciated and will be put to good use."
The Junior League welcomes all school supplies and cash gifts. The next Stuff the Bus drive will be held Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at Office Max in College Station. Collection boxes are also set up at several local businesses.
"Nothing is more important than a child's first day of school, and so many factors can destroy that, even something as simple as not having access to supplies," McGuire said. "If every one of us just donated a small amount of supplies, it multiplies and can really start off success for a child so that they are equipped to learn."
The Bryan and College Station school districts each have a nonprofit education foundation that works independently to provide financial support for classroom and districtwide programs.
The foundations accept tax-exempt donations from individuals and businesses to benefit students and staff through grants and scholarships. The money is used to support educational activities that are not within the budget of the district and where tax dollars cannot be spent.
"We have a call for grants in the spring each year and any staff member may apply," said Ann Ganter, director of the College Station Education Foundation. "A classroom teacher may apply for a grant up to $1,000, and if the teacher works with a whole grade level or if a team of teachers apply, the grant may be for up to $5,000."
The grants provide money to teachers with innovative ideas for classroom activities as well as basic materials that are essential to education.
In Bryan, $238,000 in teacher and campus grants was awarded between 1999 and 2007. The College Station Education Foundation's annual fundraiser, "50 Men Who Can Cook," raises more than $60,000 each year.
There are also Web sites designed to connect teachers with contributors. Teachers register on the sites, describing specific projects that they would like to implement. Prospective donors can search for projects that meet their interests and then contribute to make it happen.
DonorsChoose.org connects teachers with donors who want to support classroom learning. Teachers register a description of their desired classroom project or supplies as well as the cost. Donors can choose a specific project to fund.
ILoveSchools.com is an online resource that matches teachers with donors of equipment, supplies and materials. Teachers can make a wishlist for their classroom. Donors offer aid in the form of new or used items, or a cash gift.
B-CS teachers have used these sites to request specific items ranging from workbooks and dictionaries to curtains and fans. Cash donations currently being requested are for projects ranging from craft supplies, books, iPods and even a portable sound system.