Cow-chip bingo and student car washes might become relics of the past, if other schools follow Lebanon Elementary School’s example. In what might be the first event of its kind for a public grade school, the small school in southern Maine held an internet auction to raise funds for a fifth-grade class trip.

Modeled after online auctions such as eBay and Auction Universe, Lebanon Elementary’s auction let people around the country bid on items ranging from movie tickets, crafts, and free internet access to such big-ticket items as a football autographed by Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Doug Flutie, a TV movie script autographed by country music star Clint Black, and lunch for four with Gov. Angus King at the governor’s mansion.

The auction raised $7,125 to help send students on an annual trip to the Environmental Schools in Ocean Park, Maine.

The idea was the brainchild of Brian Hammond, the husband of a fifth-grade teacher at the school. Though Hammond, who owns a software development company called H.A.T.S. Software, did most of the programming for the auction site, the school’s teachers helped by adding to and updating the site, taking pictures of items for bid with a digital camera, scanning photos, and eMailing the digital images to Hammond.

Unlike the school’s previous fundraising events, the internet auction offered a unique opportunity to reach out to a wide range of potential donors, said fifth-grade teacher Karina Chapman.

“We wanted to see if we could get more support than just locally,” Chapman said. “Every year, it’s the same generous people who step up to the plate and support our efforts. But we’re not a Kennebunkport, unfortunately.”

Technology’s role

The auction was put together in a feverish two months during which parents, teachers, and students solicited items for bid. Sponsors could donate an item, make a cash donation, or buy banner advertising space on the auction’s web site. Donations were received from as far away as Boston and Buffalo, N.Y., where one parent had a friend who worked for the Buffalo Bills.

Technology also played a role. When online news source CNET ran a story on the auction March 10, the American School Directory saw it and donated a digital camera.

One of the most prized items came as a pleasant surprise to the school’s staff. On a whim, Chapman said, the school eMailed Gov. Angus King’s office, asking if the governor had anything he’d like to contribute.

“We got a message back saying the governor would be happy to offer lunch for four with him at his mansion,” Chapman said, “but we weren’t sure we should believe it. We thought maybe somebody had intercepted the message and was playing a joke. So we sent an official letter on school stationery and, sure enough, we got an official response confirming the governor’s offer!”

The auction opened March 14 and received 350 bids on its first night. Featured items, such as lunch with the governor and the digital camera, were open for bidding all week.

When visitors logged onto the site, they were greeted with a menu of the items for bid. Clicking on an item revealed its photo, a description, and the high bid to that point. Visitors could submit their own bid using a secure password. The auction featured staggered closing times for each item, so increased traffic before the bidding closed wouldn’t crash the server.

Chapman said the event was a huge success–everyone had fun putting it together, and the teachers became more familiar with computers. The school plans to continue its online fundraiser next year.

“What we’d like to see happen with this is for it to become our signature event,” Chapman said. “We’ve done cow-plop bingo, carnivals, and so on–but there’s only so many brownies you can sell.”

Lebanon Elementary School fifth-grade auction site

H.A.T.S. Software


American School Directory