EPISODE 27: THE STORY ABOUT

Funding Your Classroom

with Nikki Kalcevic

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One of my first projects was printmaking. I’ve had everything from coding and robots to Legos to jewelry making, lighting, an iPad holder and a microphone…

Jamie
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers spend on average $480 a year on supplies and materials out of their own pockets. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we spend time with Nikki Kalcevic, a Donors Choose Ambassador and national board certified art educator in Northwest Arkansas. Nikki is a veteran 17 year art teacher, former museum educator and you may remember her from the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM’s Summer 2017 arts integration conference. Welcome Nikki.

Nikki
Hi. Thank you.

Jamie
Thank you for joining us. You’re so multi talented, can you give us an overview of the different pieces of what you do.

Nikki
So art education is a big thing, when I’m not doing art education or trying to figure out ways that it connects to that. I, one of our projects is we’ve been renovating a vintage camper. And so I’ve been using some skills and I usually take those skills actually try and take video and photographs and show those to the students to talk about how there’s maybe things that you don’t know. Like, I did not know how to remove a rivet and put rivets in and that kind of thing, but I learned. So I like to try and take those real world things and apply them to things that we do at school. So…

Jamie
Love that real world connection. I’m gonna start calling you Rosie the Riveter.

Nikki
That’s fine. That’s fine.

Jamie
I love that poster too! I know that you’re also a Donors Choose Ambassador. Tell us for listeners that might not be familiar, what is Donors Choose and how does it work? And where do we find it?

Nikki
Donors Choose, if you Google it should come up right away. They just redid their logo. So they have sort of this bright blue purple logo that you’ll see. It’s a nonprofit organization actually started by a teacher who was making copies and realized how much money he was spending making copies for his students. And he thought there has to be a better way for me to get materials for my students. And it kind of was born from that. So it often times offers projects where you are able to get the things and resources that you need for your students. There are and they’ve they’ve kind of adapted this year with the Coronavirus and school closings and things like that. So they’re trying to shift the funding to distance learning and getting projects funded for things that teachers might need in order to make videos or to do certain things for instruction, as well as get materials in the hands of students that may not have those items. So they you know, usually there’s professional development that is available you can fund for that. They did post something recently, I think it was related to field trips, I think because maybe we’re not really doing those things right now. They’ve kind of put a hold on certain things, but they’re usually projects, like I said, for students in your classroom, in your school, and how it can really benefit those kids.

Jamie
And just to clarify, are the projects eligible for Donors Choose? Are they only if they’re arts related? Are they eligible? Or are we talking projects across the curriculum?

Nikki
Across the curriculum, anything. And again, like I mentioned, it can also be you know, if there’s something that you want to attend a speaker, sometimes project you know, projects and professional development that will further that, that’s eligible to but really anything when you go on and usually start a project, they usually have areas that you can choose. So it’s really again across the curriculum. It can also be helping students in need that might need clothing, they might need food and they might need social emotional learning needs. It’s really a broad spectrum of things that you can apply for.

Jamie
Definitely, important things as well, I love that. Tell us about projects that you personally have gotten funded in the past.

Nikki
Okay, so one of my first projects was printmaking. That was really fun because that’s something that I specialized in and did sort of an undergrad. I’ve had everything from coding and robots to Legos to jewelry making… Recently, with a distance learning, I put two on there one was more for the video end of that and microphones and we know that the lighting and sound and sometimes it isn’t very good. So one of those got funded just a couple of weeks ago that was for lighting, an iPad holder and a microphone, which is awesome. And so I actually had my second one funded, which was actually really great. It was to create kits. So as we’re planning for this, you know, we have this sort of distance quaranteaching, as I called it, that we did. It was like crisis teaching. It wasn’t necessarily virtual learning. But we all tried… for distance learning, trying to plan ahead, knowing that there are some guidelines for needing to disinfect, to make sure things are clean, and they’re sanitary, and keep our kids safe, teachers safe, classrooms safe. I’m thinking about making kits. So the one that just got funded, there’s some little containers where I’ll be able to make like marker sets or water color sets. It was really exciting because there’s a place where you go and thank your donors, and you write to them and say, thank you for this donation. And it was attached to – this is awesome, and I didn’t know this existed. So I kind of have to go do some more research, but it said Lucas’s birthday funding page and so this student and I don’t, it wasn’t, it’s not a student that I had, but he picked different projects and asked people for his birthday to donate to these teachers’ projects to get funded.

Jamie
No way!

Nikki
Yes. And so…

Jamie
We love Lucas!

Nikki
I know, I know. And so I’m like, I have to find out more about this, like, where is this? Who does this? Like, how do we find out about this and I was so touched because I opened my email Monday. And you know, after taking a little bit of a break, we just finished up last week, last Wednesday was our last day and I have all these donors from this birthday page. And I went, this is just amazing. It just made my heart swell, just with everything going on. And knowing that there’s, there’s still kindness in the world. So it’s awesome. So I’m going to find out about that and how kids and people, teachers, we can make these pages and ask people to fund these. It was great.

Jamie
That has touched my heart and let’s go back to kits for a moment. I want to ask you are these kits that can go home and maybe provide supplies to kids that are quarantined or self isolating at home for the summer and may not have access to arts materials?

Nikki
Yes. So that’s kind of the plan is to create these kits that they can be used at school. So I’m trying to think of multiple things like if I need to use them at school, or if I know there’s different scenarios teachers have heard, like, they they’re going to be on a cart and they have to push into rooms. And so you know, these are things that can go on a cart, they could go into a room, if people say, “Hey, we’re back to distance learning, and we, you know, need to do this.” These are things that I can deliver to students or they could take these home and check them out and keep them for a period of time. The cool thing about the distance learning projects to right now, I think, I don’t know if you can put multiple addresses in but you can send things to students so like if you knew a student that needed a computer or you they needed supplies, so right now that got funded, it’s going to come home to me, which is great because that’s not the norm and I can make these kits and then see who needs what and and get those kits to who needs them. So that’s the awesome thing about it.

Jamie
That is incredible and fabulous. And just in every sense of the word, I mean, you’re thinking ahead and thinking broadly because like you said, we just don’t know with all of the uncertainty, but I love that you have a contingency and a backup plan for these materials that they’re definitely not going to go to waste. Fabulous. Okay, what’s excluded from funding. Are there parameters we need to make sure we stay within?

Nikki
So usually as you go on and start to create a project and you go to select materials, there’s specific things. So like Amazon business is one of the vendors that you can choose from. But there are some guidelines so they don’t want you selecting certain things. And if it isn’t, when you submit to get the supplies approved for your project, they’ll kick a little message back to you and say, Hey, either it’s through like a third party vendor that they don’t you know, they’re not sure that would be able to ship it, or like for computers and for certain things, they’re trying to use Best Buy Education – that’s a vendor that they have. So they do a really good job of outlining what is allowed and what isn’t allowed. And they’ll let you know that there’s not a question of will I get this or not, they’ll let you know immediately if you need to do something. With that sometimes, and this happened with one of the projects that we just got funded, I had to pick different microphones because the other ones I believe were sold out, or they weren’t able to be shipped from that vendor in time. And so they’ll send you an email and say, “Hey, you have this amount of money from this project. These aren’t able to be ordered, but you still need to spend this, how do you want to do this?” and so they give you that option to go kind of research and figure out substitutions and how you can use them. So that’s nice.

Jamie
And thinking about logistical issues. If we’re if we’re wanting to jump into a Donors Choose project, maybe this summer, or into this fall, and we’re not yet ready to go to the site. We want to prepare things before we get there. What sort of preparation is involved here? What do we need in advance of the application process?

Nikki
It’s pretty easy. The one thing that I would say to prepare for until you can reuse it every time is there’s kind of a little blurb that you’ll give about your school, that talks about your school and your students. And so that’s the place where you could say, if you’re a Title I school, how many free and reduced lunch if you have a growing ESL population, those kinds of things. So it really gives them a picture. And you can paint a picture of your students and what they’re coming from, and kind of where you want them to be. And you can kind of reuse that that is kind of the main thing is really just knowing your community and your school, and then as your project description, just, you know, telling them what it is. They do outline things like you know, you’re you’re not to make a profit. You know, a lot of similar things to the ethics and morals of teachers and I think in education in general, but Donors Choose is really cautious of that too. So obviously, you don’t want to put something in there and say, “oh, we’re going to do this and sell this” and then the teacher pockets the money, they’re, they’re very cautious of wording and things like that. So just really trying to paint a picture of why your students need the things you, you’re asking so that people can see that, and donors can see that. And like I said, I had, like 10 people I didn’t even know from this birthday, and they picked my project out of a whole list of other things that this child had put on there, which is amazing. So, you know, just want to make sure that you’re specific enough about your needs and your students and your community.

Jamie
So cool. And do you think that if Donors Choose application is something that a teacher could write in a weekend? Is this going to take multiple weekends?

Nikki
No.

Jamie
Okay.

Nikki
The longest thing that I think that takes is sort of finding those materials and making sure… they’re very good about telling you that if it goes over $600 and you can have projects funded over that, but ones that are $600 and less are sort of almost guaranteed to be funded. They’re usually not ever not funded.

Jamie
Are you hearing that listeners? Nikki’s said you’re almost guaranteed so really think about that!

Nikki
Yes. Yes. Yes. But you can ask for more and that also just is based on who you, who will donate to that too. Sometimes there are also matches so like the Gates Foundation sometimes does matching days or like Sonic did an amount a day where they did matching during Teacher Appreciation Week. So if you’re able to email parents or people in your community and say, “Hey, I have this project, it’d be great if we could, you know, get this funded or doing a match, you know, today or these next couple days.” That’s kind of the best way to make sure that happens.

Jamie
That’s incredible, incredible to think that even a $10 donation automatically becomes 20 or more during those special weeks. Okay, Nikki, because you’ve gotten so many funded, any insider tips for for our listeners?

Nikki
So I would just say always keep it positive. If people need help, there is a link that I shared with you that if people need help with that there’s a referral program. And so if those teachers use that referral, I get an incentive that I get to apply to their project, which will then boost their funds for their project. That’s the easiest way I can help them. Like I said, it doesn’t take very long. Once you kind of get into this, you can do this probably in about an hour tops that you could write for a project. It doesn’t take very much.

Jamie
Amazing and you’re amazing to share that referral link with our listeners. And of course, once our listeners are live listening to the recording of this episode, all of the social media will also have the link on it and available to our listeners looking to jump into Donors Choose. Fabulous, I can’t wait to see everybody’s projects. And I’m sad we don’t have more time to discuss your visual artwork work. Where can we find out more about you and the work that you do?

Nikki
I don’t promote myself as much but

Jamie
You need to start!

Nikki
No and I should. But Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, I usually go by Kreativity Zoo and kreativity is with a K. And so usually you can find me on there. There will be, I’m kind of updating my website. So it has those. But though, usually I’m trying to promote student things and just positive things that are kind of going on that you can make some connections to that. So those are probably the places that you can find me.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM and I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.