Amid the constraints of tight budgets, a simple request for spiral notebooks to support students at Goleta Valley Junior High School illuminates the challenges faced by many educators today.
A small $50 investment can support the reading and writing program of 150 junior high students, yet the financial limitations of school districts often make such essential supplies seem unattainable.
Similarly, a modest request of $100 could enhance the learning environment for first-graders at Adams School in Santa Barbara by creating a cozy reading nook with plants, an indoor play tent, pillows and a rug.
And $50 can go a long way in helping an eighth-grade math teacher at La Colina Junior High in Santa Barbara equip her classroom with scientific calculators and other supplies for 160 students.
These are just a few examples of the needs that teachers face, and they underscore the importance of the fifth annual The Teacher’s Fund Supplies Drive.
When Village Properties created The Teacher’s Fund 20 years ago, the needs were not that different. The number of requests to the nonprofit organization has increased significantly in the last several years, however.
From 2021 to 2022, there was a 16% increase in the number of grants disbursed, with a total of 253 awarded in the 2022-2023 academic year.
Fortunately, donations have kept up with demand, and Village Properties proudly fulfills most requests. In the last school year, donations helped 57 schools and an estimated 6,500-plus students.
A majority of requests come from Title I schools. Last year, 75% of fulfilled requests were for Title 1 schools, yet all local schools — public and private, from Santa Barbara County’s South Coast and in Buellton, Lompoc, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang — benefit from the Teacher’s Fund.
Village Properties’ owner and co-founder, Renee Grubb, hopes to one day include Santa Maria schools again, as they were funded many years ago, thanks to a grant from the now defunct Orfalea Foundation.
Grubb told Noozhawk she’d like to get other real estate companies, like those in Lompoc and Vandenberg Village, to participate and help extend the reach.
She also would like to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the potential of expanding the program to other states.
“We could train others and show them how easy this is to orchestrate with the right people and the commitment,” Grubb said.
“The impact we are making is significant and could easily expand to other communities.”
The Teacher’s Fund played a pivotal role during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund opened early, before the school year started, to better support teachers and students in a shifting educational landscape.
“It was a crazy time and we did whatever we could to support the teachers and students,” Grubb said.
But Grubb told Noozhawk her favorite requests are the creative, out-of-the-box ones that surprise her.
“We once had a teacher who wanted to purchase a script for a play and also needed costumes,” she recalled. “So, we funded that and then got invited to the play, which brought it full circle for us!”
It’s precisely these seemingly small things that make a big difference.
“My students are so excited to simply sit on a new carpet,” said Heather McBurnie, who teaches second grade at Washington School in Santa Barbara.
“They come running to claim their special space on the rug.”
Who knows, maybe it encourages students to sit up taller, or be more alert. At the very least, it gives students ownership of their space in the classroom, which can have a positive impact on learning.
“It’s just the reality of the system, across the country, that schools often lack funding, and teachers pay for certain supplies from their own pockets because we want the best for our students,” McBurnie said.
“We want students to flourish and so does Village Properties.”
McBurnie recognizes the impact The Teacher’s Fund has in her school and throughout the area.
“With so many nonprofits in Santa Barbara, we are so lucky to have Village Properties looking out for teachers and our students,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful thing because it truly makes a difference in our local schools.”