Engaging Students in Community Grantmaking in the Age of COVID-19 

By Katie Dearing, Community 101 Coordinator 

In a time when teachers must take the very social job of educating our youth on notoriously impersonal digital platformsthey’re engaging more than 900 students at 40 schools around the state in another challenging task: making grants. 

In the classroom-based Community 101 (C101) programprimary, middle and high school students award grants to local organizations. A class receives a $5,000 allocation for grantmaking. Students identify community needs, decide where to focus, and then present their grant award to the chosen nonprofit.  

In 2018-2019, 930 students from 40 Oregon schools awarded $200,000 to 159 Oregon nonprofits, logged 10,518 community service hours and raised an additional $12,189 to add to the grantmaking total. 

This year, school closures happened right around the time that students should have been making site visits and making decisions about which local nonprofits to fund.  

Teachers began to shift their lessons online with “virtual site visits. They got creative and asked nonprofits to send in videos, schedule Zoom calls, and complete online “scavenger hunt” activities for students to complete their research on local nonprofits.  

Without being able to meet in person, teachers helped their classes reach consensus in a whole variety of creative ways: Zoom meetings, Google Classroom polls and remote presentations where students advocate for specific nonprofits to other classmates.  

Community 101 has always heavily emphasized community and it has been an incredible privilege to witness teachers finding ways to not only maintain but build up their classroom communities. Many teachers took the opportunity to ask students to reflect on the changing needs in their local communities in light of the pandemic we are facing. Ultimately, more than half of the classes reevaluated their own mission statements for the year or reached out to nonprofits who had applied for C101 funds to ask what their changing needs may have been.  

During this pandemic, teachers are making herculean efforts to keep C101 going. To date for the 2019-2020 school year, Community 101 classes have made grant recommendations totaling $95,000 to nonprofits across Oregon. By June, we anticipate awarding $200,000 in grants through the program.  

Speaking as a teacher myself, the truest joy of classroom teaching is the kids themselves. Teachers across the country are mourning the loss of their daily interactions with students and still stepping up to create new, adapted curriculum in a way that no educators have been asked to do before. While it is important to recognize the incredibly heartfelt and critical work that teachers are doing, this year of at-home learning has shifted the value of teachers into a whole new light. Teachers are a part of the backbone of our society, who are not only responsible for teaching concrete lessons, but also for igniting in students a passion for community. While students across Oregon are staying home, the community work continues! 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash