Deadline Looms for UNThink, an Overlooked Creative Grant Opportunity

Time is ticking on an innovative opportunity for 20,000 principals to earn up to $20,000 for their schools, and it’s as if no one can hear the clock.

So fears Tasha Wahl, executive director of the Wahl Group, Inc., who says she’s received just 25 applications since the grant application review period began on October 6, 2015 — with the final deadline fast approaching on February 15, 2016.

The UNthink My School Grant is available to all schools with some student population in the K–8 range and a school leader who is a member of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Gail Connelly, executive director of NAESP, says the group is honored to be chosen as the recipient of these grants. Connelly suspects the busy holidays may have put a damper on applications, but hopes to see many more before time’s up.

Anyone — even a parent — can apply for the grant, which will fund one $20,000 and ten $2,000 awards. Decisions are made based on a short application for which no experience in grant writing is required. “There’s not a lot of red tape,” Wahl says.

The grant description explains: “Possible projects could reinforce an anti-bullying campaign, focus on campus safety, overcome learning inequalities, decrease truancy, or address resource challenges."

The grant seeks to promote values from Erik Wahl’s book, “Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius."

In an interview with Noodle, Tasha Wahl, who is also Erik’s wife, explained, “The Unthink revolution means to drop what you knew before and start with what you knew when you were a child.” As adults, she says, we walk around seeing problems through the lens of limitations. But by “unthinking,” like a child, you can come up with innovative solutions to problems. In this case, she asks, “If you had a white canvas, what would you do with your school? What would you dream up? What is the most creative idea that you have, and why would you want to do it?” That’s the theory behind the grant.

Of course, using innovation and creativity to solve problems is not a revolutionary idea unique to this particular funding opportunity. As the most innovative K–12 schools demonstrate, dozens of schools across the United States are thinking outside the box to create and achieve new goals for themselves and their students.

Connelly explains that some laws and school districts have hamstrung principals’ abilities to apply for certain grants in the past. She says, “My hope is that the new law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), will increase the latitude for principals to create more favorable environments and put in place more varied resources for every child to succeed.”

While the grant application itself is fairly straightforward, the brainstorming and action plan steps involving the community — as outlined in the guidelines — could take significant time, depending on the project.

After all, the support of the community is fundamental to the grant’s purpose. “When we create community engagement, collaboration is the way we change things,” Wahl explains.

Despite the late date, she still believes the grant allows for community involvement and suggests subdividing the tasks into actionable items. “We’re down to less than a month,” Wahl says. She adds, however, “I would not discourage anyone from applying, but would encourage them to get as much done as possible.”

Funding notwithstanding, the grant also has a secondary goal — to inspire applicants (even those who do not receive awards) to act. “The original idea was for people to think, ‘Maybe we can still implement this awesome idea.’”

Connelly adds that she hopes that “the act of learning about the grant will inspire [schools] to pursue more creative solutions” in general.

To that very end, the site offers a free download for teachers, even if they don’t apply for the grant. By clicking on the I Am Artist classroom edition page and using the UNthink code at checkout, teachers can download this workbook of Erik Wahl’s ideas (usually $18) for free.

“It’s a training kit for the classroom. We want teachers to go ahead and use it to help people come up with these ideas,” Tasha Wahl explains. “We hear all the time, ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body.’ It reawakens the creative child in you. By the end of it, you will be thinking creatively.”

As for the grant, Connelly says to her 20,000 NAESP members, “I encourage them to take to advantage of a fairly straightforward and relatively simple process for the possibility of receiving funding for an activity that could support goals they have set for year.”

At this time, Connelly indicates that applicants would have considerably good shot at the $20,000 award, and even better chance to secure one of the $2,000 awards. “That’s a substantial amount of funding by anyone’s standard, which could make a substantial difference. There’s never been an easier grant to apply for. I’ve seen what $2,000 can do with innovation and creative thinking in a school community,” she says. “Go for it!”

Wahl, too, looks forward to receiving more applications for this year’s grant. “I’m so excited to hear from people and hear what they think. I want to continue to partner with people and their issues and hear how they’ve overcome them.” She knows it sounds idealistic, but she and Erik want to help educators create opportunities that would not otherwise have existed.

Wondering about how schools near you are “unthinking” education? Check out their profiles using the Noodle school search tool.

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