Buena Regional High School students have made a video to compete for as much as $50,000 to fund music through a campaign sponsored by the National Music Educators Association and Fox Entertainment.
Galloway Township teacher Terry Dougherty is hoping to win $10,000 for a tutoring program through the Great American Teach-Off competition sponsored by the media company GOOD and the University of Phoenix.
Both contests ask supporters to go online to vote for them daily, until the contests end Nov. 7. Thousands of people have responded, many with no direct connection to the schools but with a new awareness of GOOD and the Fox TV show “Glee,” a co-sponsor of the music video contest.
“There are people from Fort Bragg (North Carolina), who have voted” said Dougherty, who plans to use the funds for laptops and cameras for her class and a tutoring program she runs for the children of military families. “I’ve never been big on social media before, but now I’m on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus.”
Fundraising always has been an integral part of school culture. But typically it was restricted to friends and family within the school community who wanted to fund field trips and pizza parties. Today, as school budgets have been tightening, social media are expanding outside fundraising opportunities as major companies offer the chance to win thousands of dollars while generating publicity for themselves.
The National Education Policy Center’s 2010 report on schoolhouse commercializing trends notes that since the recession, teachers and administrators are increasingly welcoming school/business “partnerships” that embed advertising in educational or fund-raising projects. New Jersey lawmakers this year passed a bill allowing school districts to advertise on school buses, within specific guidelines.
“This really is a reflection of how desperate our schools are for financing,” said Josh Golin, associate director of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “But they are to some extent selling out their students, turning them into brand ambassadors and teachers into promoters.”
Both the Galloway Township and Buena Regional school districts reduced their budgets by more than $2 million during the past two years.
Buena Regional High School music teacher Michael McCausland admits he was very cautious about making the music video for the “Glee” competition. But this year the band and choir ensembles at the middle school were cut, and his supply budget at the high school was reduced from $10,000 to less than $2,000. So when he got the notice about the contest through a music-educators association, he decided to give it a shot.
Parents had to agree — in writing — both to let their child participate, and to make no royalty or other claim on the video, which becomes the property of the contest sponsor.
Students involved said they were excited to do something to help their school and raise awareness of the impact of budget cuts and the importance of the arts in their lives.
“Music is part of our everyday lives,” said Brenae Johnson, 17, of Buena.
“We have all this passion and talent and we need a way to show it,” Emily Hawk, 17, of Buena said.
They are a bit discouraged because some of the other 11 participating New Jersey schools are beating them in the popular vote, even if it only counts for about 10 percent of the total score. So they’ve been showing family members how to vote and texting friends in other towns.
McCausland said the drama club does fund-raising, but doesn’t raise the kind of money the “Glee” competition is offering.
Dougherty is one of two teachers left in the Great American Teach-Off, where the award will be based solely on the number of votes cast. She said she’s been spending a few hours every evening thanking people for voting and reminding them to vote every day. Dougherty did not apply for the contest herself, but was nominated by the local Rotary Club, which has supported her tutoring program. The contest does not directly involve students and school administration has been supportive.
Dougherty said the contest also has allowed her to raise national awareness of challenges facing military children, who may move frequently and have parents deployed overseas.
“People really don’t realize what it’s like for military families,” she said. She has Skyped parent-teacher meetings online with deployed parents and said more equipment will allow students to do videos and class presentations they can send to their parents, as well as create a mobile technology lab for her class.
Dougherty also has used donorschoose.org, a nonprofit web site supported by corporate donations that invites teachers to post projects that need funding to a virtually unlimited audience of potential donors. She’s acquired chess sets from another school using site, as well as donations for her tutoring program.
Golin said even if students get excited about the projects and they do raise money, there is a price to pay.
“It is a tragedy that schools have to turn to these types of things,” he said. “But schools should also be looking at how far they are willing to go. Companies see an opportunity for marketing, and school policies haven’t necessarily caught up.”
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