RAFT helps keep educators afloat

By Claire Martin, The Denver Post

Karrie Adamson spent more than $200 on back-to- school supplies, not a surprising outlay for the extracurricular Girl Scout programs she leads.

But what was surprising: It took three car trips to carry her purchases back to the office.

Everything — $1 composition notebooks, 5-cent steel wool pads, $1 for a half-gross of glass microscope slides, 50-cent insulated lunch bags, $5 for a 4-by-8-foot foam-core poster — came from RAFT (Resource Area For Teachers), a warehouse of recycled and donated materials.

A RAFT membership costs $25 a year, with the stipulation that members work with children and youths as educators or youth-group leaders who typically work on a skeletal budget.

Teachers frequently supplement school district materials with books and projects they buy themselves, and recent financial cutbacks leave them scrambling for ways to teach concepts without breaking the bank.

“It’s the difference between being able to have a quality program versus a fallback program,” Anderson says. She especially likes RAFT’s inventory of science kits designed to meet specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) standards.

“If I can buy science kits, I can give these kids — and a lot of them are inner-city kids who don’t have much — a high-quality program for the same amount of money I’d spend on buying paper plates for a mask-making activity.”

The first RAFT warehouse was in San Jose, Calif. It was such a hit that another branch was added in Redwood City. The Denver RAFT opened two years ago and has about 1,200 members.

“The new Colorado standards incorporate 21st century skills, like critical thinking, creative problem-solving and collaboration,” says Stephanie Welsh, RAFT’s executive director.

“You can’t learn those skills passively. You’ve got to be doing things. That’s really what RAFT is about: Giving innovative and practically free resources to help students learn.”

RAFT’s materials largely are outdated or end-product items donated by corporations. For example: Street banners of last year’s Colfax Marathon, foamcore posters advertising exhibits at Colorado museums or conventions, stationary from defunct businesses, and T-shirts, reusable bags and cups printed with corporate logos, discarded but functional whiteboards, and giant paper end rolls and cardboard tubes.

Upcycling those materials into classroom projects is limited only by imagination, as evidenced by a towering totem pole in the middle of Denver’s RAFT warehouse. It’s made of stacked giant cardboard circles decorated with papier-mache faces, colored with paint from RAFT’s art supply inventory.

“It illustrates how RAFT pulls together elements from different donors, taking the things they don’t want, and turns them into hands-on learning material,” Welsh said.

Claire Martin: 303-954-1477 or cmartin@denverpost.com

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