By Marissa Garcia, Santa Barbara Education Foundation

The Santa Barbara Education Foundation announced the awardees of their Teacher Grant Program in mid-December and distributed over $85,000 in grants to local teachers.

After reaching out to schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, SBEF received a total of 74 applicants. Teachers applied for grants between $250 to $5,000 for materials that increase innovative learning in the classroom. Among the applicants, 59 were awarded funds for materials or projects that would impact the lives of over 10,000 students.

Literacy Specialist at McKinley Elementary Anne Darga received her grant before winter break to give her students books that specifically target each individuals’ reading level as a gift for the holidays.

“Without your grant, I couldn’t have purchased books for my 18 students,” said Darga. “Students returned from winter break excitedly saying they had read the books to their younger brothers and sisters or to their parents. The confidence that shown through their voices was exactly why we are working so hard to support these students.”

Every year teachers willingly dip into their own salary and spend an average out-of-pocket cost of $480 a year to enrich the experience of their students inside the classroom. This year the Santa Barbara Education Foundation wanted to lend teachers a helping hand with the Teacher Grant Program, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Elaine J. Stepanek Foundation.

Grant requests ranged from books for classroom libraries to new furniture for a better learning environment. There were also requests for technology like programmable drones for a coding and robotics class and a commercial grade oven to be used for the culinary arts program.

Recently another grant recipient, Jana McKee from Adams Elementary School, spent her weekend reinventing her classroom into a comfortable learning space. With the grant, Mckee was able to order new stand up desks, wobble chairs, cushions, and rugs for her third and fourth graders who are reading and writing below or far below their grade level.

The new flexible seating arrangement allows McKee to deliver solid instruction to her students who struggle to pay attention and sit still in a traditional learning environment.

“I wanted to put my classroom together like this for these kids this summer, but I lacked the funds. With this grant, I was able to dream up a classroom even better than I had hoped for,” said McKee.

“When we launched the Teacher Grant program we weren’t sure what kind or how many requests we would receive. But after seeing the submitted requests, we are excited to support teachers who are providing such diverse and innovative learning experiences for our students,” said SBEF Executive Director Margie Yahyavi.

Although the SBEF’s Teacher Grant Program is new, it brings the organization back to its roots. In 1985, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation started when a group of concerned parents came together to support teachers by offering small grants for classroom supplies. As the needs of local public schools grew and evolved over the years, so did the organization’s focus. SBEF now supports and raises funding for over 20 programs serving a wide variety of students needs including mental health, literacy, music and the performing arts.