A fundraiser for schools. Whether it be selling cookies, butter braids, or wrapping paper, adults put upon children and families to bring money into schools. But what happens to the child in the classroom who lives in a home where there is no money for cookies or paper? Recently, our elementary school held its annual Boosterthon. As the barrage of emails, phone calls, flyers, and memorabilia came to our home, I wondered why we are still doing this?
My child attends an elementary school where 15.5% of students receive free and reduced lunch assistance. This is significantly lower than the state average of 48.4%. With a total of 518 students attending our school, at least 80 of them qualify for free and reduced lunch. These 80 human beings come to school not only for education, but also for stability, food, and warmth. They may also come to school so their parent(s) can work to put food on the table and lights in the home. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Here’s the rub. The Boosterthon is not just selling candles or pizza. It is more than just a fundraiser for schools. They encourage kids to bring in money for the school under the guise of “a family event.” Ours happened to be a dancing event at 9:30-10:15am on a Friday. They hold daily presentations where, according to their website, “students learn about teamwork, care, courage and celebration…” In the weeks leading up to the big event, emails start and then a robo call comes from the principal explaining that the $20,000 they hope to raise will go towards STEM equipment for the public school.
And then they get dirty. For example, my child is told that if they want to wear PJs to school, all they have to do is to get a parent to sign up for the booster app on their phone. Stop.The.Presses. What?! I pulled it together to correspond with the teacher. My email went like this:
“While I know the school needs to raise money for technology and other amazing things. My concern always goes to those kids who cannot afford to donate to wear PJs to school or be on a leaderboard. If there are any students that you know of who cannot afford for a parent to donate, I would like to know how I can donate on their behalf. Totally anonymous. And I don’t need to know the names of the kids. I would like to know how I can make sure that they are taken care of.”
Hello! Thank you for your kindness. The kids only had to sign up. No money is involved for wearing pj’s.
I didn’t go further, perhaps I will at some point. When I do it will go something like this:
Thank you for taking the time to organize and develop fundraising events for our school and to supplement public funding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in our classrooms. I am asking for a moment of your time to consider the methods through which you pursue your funding.
15.5% of children at our school (80 or so kids) are eligible for free or reduced lunch. According to the National Centers for Education and Science: Household size and income is the most common way to determine eligibility. For example, a child from a family of four is eligible for free school meals if the household’s current annual income is below $34,450. If the family’s annual income is between $34,450 and $49,025, the child is eligible for reduced-price meals.
This is but one way to look at poverty in our school. We could, for example, consider who in our school is eligible for specially funded programs or waiver of fees. No matter how you label it, we have students who are living in homes with low socioeconomic status. If statistics are correct, 80 or so of them this year. They are marginalized by family income, sometimes by race or ethnicity. They could be members of a single-parent home or being raised in foster care or with grandparents.
I submit that bringing in outside groups with fancy assemblies and flashy prizes should be reconsidered. Sending home flyers, emails, and robocalls asking to take part in these programs is overkill at best and marginalizing at worst. Of greater concern is that children had to have their parents sign up for a fundraising app to participate in PJ day (I know, no money required, just compliance with downloading the app and giving away your personal information). This, in addition to students whose parents donated money receiving increasingly attractive prizes based on the dollar amount of the donation. Where does this leave our most vulnerable children?
To people who have never seen the world through the eyes of a child who walks through life in poverty, perhaps getting a parent to sign up for an app is a small thing. When participation is tied to monetary investment, even if that investment is just of time or cell service, we miss the mark. Tying status or reward to monetary donation is negligent. We are marginalizing our most vulnerable population. This is to say nothing of my 9:30-10:15 am family dance slot with my first grader. I did not have the luxury of taking off work to attend with my child and they were sad. Taking off work for a family with low-socio-economic status could be catastrophic.
My motto in life is “know better, do better.”
I do not believe Boosterthon intends to marginalize students. The goal is not to leave out families. I am simply asking for a fresh look through different eyes. We live in an area that is ripe with STEM-focused government organizations and contractors. If you need funding for those items, one could consider going to a company and talking about what they might be able to do. Perhaps they would be willing to do a presentation for the school and donate needed items. Grants are another great way to bring much-needed dollars into the school. Finally, if you ask for donations from parents, do so. Do not tie pjs to compliance and prizes to penance.
Boosterthon is a for-profit corporation. Moreover, they collect 7% profit. This percentage decreases for schools that “need less help or only need software.” You can learn more about Boosterthon by clicking here. The founder of the organization is Chris Carneal, you can learn more about him here.