Education web portal bigchalk.com announced on June 28 that it has created the bigchalk Foundation to provide grants to public school educators who want to establish or expand local school communities online, beginning this fall.

“We’re not a very large company, but we want to do our share to help bridge the digital divide,” Senior Vice President and General Manager Sue Collins told School Technology Funding Bulletin. “This is a program that can extend the learning experience, as well as help fight the digital divide.”

In its first year, the foundation will make 100 grants (most likely distributed as two per state) of up to $1,000 per school. About 60 of the grants will go to the most needy schools, with special emphasis on schools in federal empowerment zones.

The foundation will not restrict its funds to new projects, nor will it insist that grantees show that they already have major ongoing programs. “We will support both programs that show the most need and also those that may be a model for other programs,” said Collins. “We’re still finalizing our criteria, and we anticipate having our guidelines clarified and on our web site by October 1.”

Beginning in October, applications can be submitted through the end of the calendar year. Winners will be announced in February 2001, and grants will be provided promptly so that programs can be implemented during the remainder of the 2000-2001 school year.

In general terms, bigchalk will expect applicants to show how their programs will improve parent involvement in education, as well as give all children access to technology. “The most important thing is community,” said Collins. “We really believe that this notion of community can turn the tide in education and create an atmosphere in which people can say we are truly improving education through the use of technology.”

Recognizing that $1,000 grants won’t completely solve any school’s technology needs, Collins said applicants should look at the funds as “a kick-start to a project or a motivation to keep going. You’ll need to put your money into the program, too, so that you can sustain it when this grant is used up.”

Educators applying for the grants must use bigchalk’s suite of online educational tools to build their online communities. This “will enable us to accurately examine how effectively these communities work and grow and encourage communication between parents and teachers,” said Collins.

Bigchalk.com is an education portal and online community for K-12 educators, parents, and students. Bigchalk’s products include ProQuest (a research tool), eLibrary (a web reference tool), Retriever (a search engine), ExplorAsource (a free online service about educational standards), and HomeworkCentral (safe and grade-appropriate web-referencing).

For more information, write to the bigchalk Foundation at grants@bigchalk.com, or visit its web site. n

http://www.bigchalk.com