Ask the Health Teacher: How Do I Budget for Next School Year?

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In my inbox today was such a great question from a fellow health teacher that I felt it needed to be shared:

Hi Amy!

We are currently working on our budget. Since you just went through this process, I was wondering if there was anything you think I 'need' to buy that would benefit the students - or the course in general?

—Martin Murray, MS Health, American International School of Budapest

Now is about the time when schools and districts begin to plan their budgets for the next school year. As teachers, we’re often asked to chime in (or we should be, anyway!). But when it comes to health education—often the first to go when it comes time for budget cuts—additional funds can be a hard sell.

So, to answer Martin’s question, is there anything you’ll need to buy?

The short answer is: No.

The longer answer is that while you don't really need to tap into the budget to buy anything in advance, it's nice to have some money on hand. For example, our health department asks for a "placeholder" budget for the year so that we can plan purchases accordingly.

Since so many curriculum resources are open source and available online, we don't need to spend money on textbooks or overpriced health DVD's anymore, which gives us the means to help our students make learning connections in a more hands-on way. Our departments’ money is now often spent on food for cooking classes, a fee to bring in a yoga teacher, field trips to a local farm, subscriptions for apps or magazines, etc.

Pulling away from “educational materials” was relatively easy, and we’ve found that we don’t need much money at all anymore.

Here are three ways to plan within any budget:

1. Get rid of the textbooks.

Every few years, most subject areas undergo a curriculum review process, during which textbooks are often reviewed and new ones purchased. Before they waste any money, this would be a great time to show the powers that be how much of your curriculum is found online and how little your existing textbooks are used.

If you’re not sure when your next review is, ask a district representative. But even if you’re not up for a review, you can still advocate for a textbook-free class. When our principal realized how much money we would save him—and all of the fun activities we had planned for the class—he was more than happy to approve a small budget for our purchases.

2. Ditch the DVD player, too.

Health DVDs are notoriously expensive and often cringe-worthy and out-of-date. Meanwhile, there are amazing documentaries, TED Talks, and free video resources hitting the web all the time.  

The switch to online resources will save you money, and save your students the agony of having to sit through one more video featuring teen actors in acid-washed jeans telling them how to act on MySpace.

3. Ask the community to pitch in.

I’ve found community members who are more than happy to work with my students, either for the marketing opportunity, or because of a genuine desire to help out.

Put the feelers out in your neighborhood. Maybe there’s a grocery store that could offer a cooking demo, or a yoga studio that will offer a free class. Chances are, you can find opportunities for extended (and free!) learning right in your school’s backyard.

Next month, we’ve got the owner of a health food store coming in to talk to the sixth graders about “Super Foods.” They’re super excited. I think they’re also a little confused, but I don’t have the heart to tell them yet that kale—while completely awesome and powerful—still won’t make them learn how to fly.

What teaching quandaries are on your mind? Send an email to Team Choices, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.