By Kathy Mansfield

School librarians routinely seek creative funding sources to enhance local school library budgets to provide as many resources as possible to the students and faculties they serve. For the following school librarians, efforts to research, write and apply for grants have been well-rewarded.

Crystal Smallwood, Jenkins Independent Schools
Appalachian Renaissance Initiative Learning Innovation Grant

Crystal Smallwood

Crystal Smallwood

Jenkins Independent school library media specialist Crystal Smallwood received Learning Innovation grants the past two years from the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI). She won $1,000 for the 2017-18 school year for her grant “Put a Story in Your Pocket,” and $1,000 for the 2016-17 school year for her grant “Listen and Doodle to Increase Comprehension.”

Educators in the 17 participating ARI school districts are eligible to apply for the competitive Learning Innovation Grant. Educators may apply for up to $1,000 to enhance classroom learning by implementing innovative strategies and approaches to learning. One hundred grant recipients are selected every year. All of the recipients present their projects in the fall at the Fall Fire Summit.

“Our presentations are videotaped and available to watch on The,” Smallwood said. “We have to make a display board of our project and post it at the summit. Everyone walks around and looks at everyone else’s projects. We have eight minutes to present what we are planning to do with our grant funds.

“We do the project throughout the school year, measure our results and come back and present another eight minute presentation telling how our project worked and the impact it made on our students/school. It is actually an awesome learning experience because you get so many great ideas from other educators across the 17 districts.”

Smallwood used this year’s grant funds to purchase 20 Playaway devices for the school library. Playaways are electronic devices with pre-loaded audio books for students. 

“I purchased Playaways to enable students to check out an audiobook,” she said. “Sometimes they use splitter cables and two students at a time listen to the same audiobook. We have also used a Playaway with a whole group. I recently used “The One and Only” Ivan Playaway by plugging it into my teacher workstation for a whole group to listen to the book. Listening to a good narrator helps students with pronunciation, vocabulary and fluency.” 

According to Smallwood, applying for the grant was definitely worth the effort.

“I have learned so much from the other grant recipients. Other than our own eight minute presentation, we spend the entire day in the fall and the whole day in the spring listening to others tell about their innovative grant projects,” she said.

Smallwood also has won grants from the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative Project and from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Lindsay Kokai, Engelhard Elementary (Jefferson County)
Laura Bush Foundation Grant
Prime Time Family Reading Grant

Lindsay Kokai

Lindsay Kokai

Lindsay Kokai is a new librarian this year at Engelhard Elementary. 

“The librarian at my school last year applied and was awarded the Laura Bush Foundation Grant, which I inherited,” she said. “Our school was awarded $5,000, which the previous librarian requested be split into four categories: graphic novels, biographies, emerging fiction and makerspace titles. Our students will benefit greatly from these new titles.

“A large percentage of our student population falls below reading level and does not have sufficient access to reading materials. For some, school is the only place they might be exposed to books. Our yearly book buying budget is not enough to both keep up with replacement costs as well as expand the collection to meet recommended standards and student ratio needs. I have found that because our students are not used to owning or being around books or come from transient unpredictable lives, the trauma they face manifests itself in every aspect of their lives. I’m constantly replacing books.”

Engelhard was awarded another grant this year called the Prime Time Family Reading Grant through the Kentucky Humanities Council, which is funding a six-week family literacy night initiative.

“The entire family is invited, provided a meal, hears a famous Kentucky storyteller,” Kokai said. “Then everyone discusses the stories they’ve heard, with the goal of learning how to begin making reading a nightly family habit and integrating conversations about reading into their daily lives.”

Kokai offered some advice to others who are contemplating applying for a grant.

“Continue to try and fill out as many applications as possible. Make connections and network; seek community support,” she said. “Ask others who have been awarded grants and look for local opportunities. It doesn’t just have to be big-name grants. Every little bit helps.”

Crystal Britton, Byck Elementary (Jefferson County)
Laura Bush Foundation Grant

Crystal Britton

Crystal Britton

Byck Elementary librarian Crystal Britton heard about the Laura Bush Foundation Grant from a colleague. She applied and received $5,000 to purchase new books for the school library. She bought books in each Dewey Decimal classification to help update the library’s nonfiction collection.

“Winning the grant has been great. I actually have new books for almost every request that I have gotten this year,” Britton said. “It has helped get teachers and students excited about the books in the library.”

Britton’s advice to other librarians considering grants is to “evaluate your collection, decide what you really need and go for it!”

Kristina Morgan-Weber, Goldsmith Elementary (Jefferson County)
Laura Bush Foundation Grant
“A few years ago, I was looking at grant opportunities for public school librarians online and I discovered the Laura Bush Foundation grant,” said Kristina Morgan-Weber, librarian at Goldsmith Elementary. “I’ve made an attempt to apply every year since becoming a librarian.”

That determination paid off this year to the tune of $6,000, all of which went to the purchase of new books for the school library.

Morgan-Weber’s general goals included updating the copyright age of the library’s collection, purchasing low-level/high-interest texts to support English learners and other emergent readers, and adding Spanish titles and multicultural texts to support the school’s Spanish immersion and magnet programs.

So far, the grant has funded 315 new books that will support and extend classroom instruction.

“When selecting texts, I specifically looked for weaknesses in our collection, as well as sought teacher input,” said Morgan-Weber. “Teachers will now have materials that will support their instruction of specific Kentucky Academic Standards. In addition, many of the books purchased contain online material extensions, such as bilingual vocabulary, read-a-longs, videos and other media that can be used with full classes using an interactive whiteboard.”

Morgan-Weber said the grant made a much-needed update in her school library possible.

“My students have said for a long time that many of the books on our shelves are not appealing or are on topics that are old or uninteresting or boring,” she said. “Some of my students have complained they can’t find books containing characters about their own ethnicity that they can relate to. When selecting materials, I made an effort to find books that would fit both of these criteria. The books purchased with this grant will impact all of our staff and students.”

Morgan-Weber offers the following advice to other librarians who are considering getting involved in grant writing:

  • “Go for it! I never imagined that our school would be chosen from among thousands of applicants. If you don’t apply, you won’t be selected.”
  • “Expect to spend time on the application. Overall, I spent about three weeks carefully answering each question. Yes, it was time consuming, but I made a thorough attempt to paint a picture of what the culture, climate and needs of our students and staff at Goldsmith Elementary were. I used a lot of data – collection analysis reports, circulation reports, etc.”
  • “When in doubt, ask for help. If you haven’t written a grant before, chances are there are many people in your building or district who have. Use them as a resource. You might also want to consider reaching out to a former grant winner and ask what he/she included in the application. Have someone look over the application before you submit it.”


Crystal Smallwood
Lindsay Kokai
Crystal Britton
Kristina Morgan-Weber