Communities and corporations are getting more involved in public education and that is a good thing. Funding for resources that don't focus on high stakes testing is becoming less available as massive budget cuts are underway.
However, creative administrators, teachers, and parents can find some great resources out there. Time Warner Cable has launched an initiative called Connect a Million Minds where parents and kids can connect with organizations that provide after school and summer activities related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The coolest feature is that you can put in your zip code and find local offerings in an instant. Each day more organizations are loading their information onto the site, which launched in November 2009, and more kids are connecting to them.
Another corporate initiative, sponsored by PepsiCo is called Refresh Everything. Every day ordinary people vote on the ideas of dedicated and creative educators who submit their requests for $5,000 - $250,000 grants. PepsiCo gives away $1.3 million every month to a variety of projects across all social sectors.
Donors Choose is another initiative that connects individual donors with teacher requests for funding for projects. It's a simple process similar to those used by KIVA and other organizations who provide a marketplace of sorts for people wanting to give back to society. Instead of costly evaluation processes, the teachers who receive the grants merely have to create a 'thank you' package to show the donors how they used the money.
Some may be cynical about these programs, suspecting that the corporate programs have ulterior motives and that the non-profits will show few measurable results. But I believe these are wonderful ways for people to directly impact the education of kids and get involved in helping provide engaging learning experiences. Maybe this will inspire them to get more involved in the larger discussion about providing a richer learning experience for all kids in public schools.