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Program Growth Through Grant Writing

By Cass Poncelow | August 2020

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Now, perhaps more than ever, with declining budgets and lack of state funding, school counselors may find themselves in the lurch with program development filed under the category “There’s just no money.” It is discouraging to have a great idea to create an opportunity for students or your school and not be able to actualize it due to a lack of funding. Grant writing is a unique opportunity for school counselors to advocate for their students and for our profession.

Let Data Direct You

Many school counselors might be intimidated by the process of grant writing, but it uniquely aligns with the ASCA National Model and offers an opportunity to use data to identify needs and create SMART goals that help meet those needs. For example, our ninth-grade needs assessment showed that many students were struggling with the transition to high school and felt unprepared to identify their strengths and interests and choose relevant courses or a pathway. In partnership with our feeder middle schools, we developed a SMART goal that focused on making sure eighth graders had at least three “transition experiences” prior to coming to high school. We applied for a grant to fund additional counselors who could help us facilitate these experiences. This funded work led to the development of a strength-finding tool, and provided funds for transportation for high school visits and opportunities for parent engagement. Researchers have highlighted the importance of this transition and by using several studies combined with our data, we were able to make a strong case for additional support for transitioning ninth graders. In another effort, a Needs Gap Assessment helped us recognize that female students and students of color were not enrolling in our Engineering and Design Pathway. Using this assessment, we designed outreach and events for these specific populations and were able to designate grant funding to make sure that the STEM fields were accessible to all students.

Collaboration and Timely Topics

Grant writing offers unique and vital opportunities for school counselors to collaborate with a variety of stakeholders. Many grants are partnerships between different departments in a building, or between different schools and often include community partners. Prior to becoming a school counselor, I worked in the media center of a high school. I partnered with the school counselors to do some bibliocounseling work, which led to a grant creating book sets and resource guides focused on teen issues such as eating disorders, mental health and substance abuse. This unique partnership allowed us to use books to invite discussion in small groups with students who might not normally be willing to discuss these topics, facilitated by me and a school counselor.

Grant funders are eager to support timely topics and many want to be part of cutting-edge work in the field of education. Topics such as social/emotional learning, bullying prevention, suicide prevention and restorative practices can be priorities for funders. Consider the current pandemic and racial justice issues in our country: numerous grants have already emerged looking for applicants with ideas to address these. Grants come from many different sources including federal and state grants. These are typically more competitive and might include potential funding for positions for school counselors. Many of these grants are cyclical, meaning that funding might be available for three to four years. Grants also come from corporations or businesses. For example, WalMart offers grant funding regularly and can be a great source for small projects costing several hundred dollars. If you have local corporations and businesses in your community, check and see if they fund schools. Finally, grants are available from private, philanthropic or community foundations. Foundations are required to give a certain percentage of their income away yearly. These organizations are often a great source of funding because they have local connections with schools and are invested in the community and its youth. To find these sources, get on mailing lists from foundations or your state’s Department of Education to make sure you are seeing when new grant funding might be released. If you know of others who have received grants, be sure to ask them about their funder and then do regular “site checks” for potential funding. As you seek out funding sources, remember that the more local it is, the better, especially as state and federal funding are being cut. Local donors are eager to see their communities thrive and are often the best source for money.

Know Why, How and Who

Once you have identified a potential grant, it is important to go back to your needs assessment and data collection. Be sure you have the data that can support your ask and clarity around what it is that you are asking for. Well-written grant proposals present a need, but also clearly articulate how that need will be met with the work you will be doing. As you convey your “why,” include any unique factors that are in play or specific challenges for your school site. Also essential is having the right people on board – make sure your principal is aware of your application and consider whether your application requires partnership with other district departments.

Most grants require a few common elements, such as your need and project description, and goals and objectives. These are easily likened to the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors and critical in terms of being clear and attainable. Most grants will also ask for a budget. As with all applications, be sure to have someone look over your budget and proofread your application. Deadlines are non-negotiables in the grant world and most grant applications are online, so it is important to allow yourself time to deal with any potential technical difficulties. Grants can be a significant way to impact your program and create opportunities for your students. The time required for writing them is miniscule compared to the impact additional funding can make.
Contact Cass Poncelow, a school counselor and freshmen transition counselor at Poudre High School in Colorado, at