By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
San Jose Teachers Association member Vicki Nosanov-Goldman talks about stretching classroom dollars at Bret Harte Middle School.
When life gives her lemons, Vicki Nosanov-Goldman has her nutrition students make lemon meringue pies and lemon bars. When life gives her other items, she also finds a way to use them.
For instance, when someone gave her shovels and fire pits, her social studies students cooked outdoor meals like slaves — which they happened to be studying. When the Girl Scouts donated rolls of fabric, Nosanov-Goldman started a sewing club where students made togas.
And then there's the squash — lots of squash — that someone gave her from a local garden. Students cut the squash into pieces to store in a donated freezer and will use it in the future to make squash bread.
"I call myself the Princess of Begging with Dignity," jokes Nosanov-Goldman, a nutrition and social studies teacher at Bret Harte Middle School and a San Jose Teachers Association member. "I grew up poor in Banning. I'm shameless. I have a great sense of humor about this. I'm a scrounger."
If a company is going out of business, she asks for computers, paper and office supplies that CEOs would rather donate than sell. At garage sales, she asks sellers to donate items for her "prize bucket" to reward good students. If a teacher retires, she is there to collect what's left behind. She applies for grants constantly and attends educational conferences, where she stocks up on posters, pens and pencils. For fun, she browses "freecycling" on Yahoo and "free listings" on Craigslist.
Among her most prized donations are computer monitors, turn-of-the-century needlepoint, Native American artwork, atlases, a microwave oven, a refrigerator, three boxes of Tupperware and carts for schlepping things around. She also won, through Project Citizen, an all-expense-paid trip to Louisiana for her and eight students to attend the National Conference for State Legislatures.
"I don't mind asking for things. I don't mind rejection. If people say no, they say no. But I say, ‘I'm a teacher, would you mind…?' and they often say yes. When I get something good, I'll throw my lesson plan up in the air and use whatever I have for a teachable moment." In an ideal world, educators don't beg for handouts and scrounge for discounts and freebies. But when public schools don't receive the basics, teachers are left scrambling. Bargain hunting is time-consuming and may not always pay off. However, for those who love the thrill of the chase, it can be gratifying.
The following are some bargain hunting strategies from CTA members.
Barbara Elliott Sanders — Literacy coach at Sunnyslope Elementary School in San Diego and member of the Southwest Teachers Association.
Philosophy: "Teachers shouldn't have to ask. We know this, but we do it anyway for our students."
Strategies: Attends open houses for teachers at places like Office Depot and Staples, where pencils, highlighters, paper and other supplies are given out. Takes advantage of free days for teachers at local museums and receives curriculum packets with fun activities. Asks for extra promotional items like rulers, pencils and pens at county fairs or community events. Enlists local restaurants to help with fundraisers and snacks: Outback cooked dinner for a set price and let the school keep the profits; Starbucks supplied free coffee for parent workshops. Asks local sports teams — the San Diego Chargers and the Padres — for promotional items left over at the end of the season, and uses sports posters and items as incentive prizes for students. Invites community members she meets schmoozing to be guest speakers at her school.
Richie Wong — Third-grade teacher at Visitation Valley Elementary School and member of United Educators of San Francisco.
Philosophy: "I'm pretty good at telling people why I need money. I say, ‘We're poor, and my students perform very well on the test.'"
Strategies: Uses www.donorschoose.org, a website where teachers from disadvantaged neighborhoods are matched with donors to pay for items the school can't afford. Last spring, Wong needed $800 to take his students to Golden Gate Park for a field trip with San Francisco Nature Education, a nonprofit bird-watching organization. Through the website he was matched with a donor who fronted the money for the trip. Students, accompanied by naturalists, were able to experience lots of wildlife and received a guidebook to help identify animals. He also receives money through www.adoptaclassroom.com that helps pay for books and supplies.
Denise Stewart — English language development teacher at Willow Glen High School and member of the San Jose Teachers Association.
Philosophy: "I love the Internet. I live on it. But if a site isn't teacher-friendly, I move on."
Strategies: The website she and two friends co-founded, www.ellteacherpros.com (click on "Recommendations"), offers a wealth of websites with free educational games, databases, lessons, WebQuests and resources. She suggests visiting the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times online for free lessons in economics, history, science and technology; and websites for news agencies such as MSNBC and AP to get videos of political events, weather or important stories of the day. She especially likes www.filamentality.com where teachers can post and share hotlists and WebQuests for free.
A variety of free supplies
Denise Stewart's online picks for freebies