Written by The Business Journal Staff
T4T rescues manufacturing overruns, discards and castoffs and re-imagines items for hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) projects that can be done in the classroom.
Leah Hanes, the executive director for T4T, said the organization’s founders were manufacturers who started donating extraneous heart-shaped cardboard boxes and other byproducts from their specialty-packaging factory to their son’s preschool. Amazed by the imaginative projects the kids came up with, the couple decided to create T4T, a place manufacturers could bring their excess clean waste items where they would then be made available to classroom teachers.
“For manufacturers, it is a real win-win because they would normally have to pay extra to send some of these items to the landfill, but when they donate to us they earn a tax write off instead,” Hanes said.
The cost savings is also substantial for participating school districts and teachers, who can purchase supplies for classroom projects at a fraction of what they would ordinarily spend at a big box retailer.
“Teachers often buy things on their own and have to go to four or five places to find what they need for a project,” said Dr. Steve Price, the director of Fresno State’s teacher internship program. “My son taught 7th grade science and he averaged about $120-$140 a month just to do labs in his classroom every year. Here, for $100 he can run 180 projects throughout the year. That’s how far $100 goes here.”
Randy Mehrten, a senior director in the Fresno County Office of Education’s (FCOE) Safe and Healthy Kids department, said FCOE is excited to partner with T4T because any amount schools can save of supplies can be redirected to staffing.
“Our sites need their budgets to pay for staffing with the cost of living expenses increasing,” Mehrten said. “The cost of living is hitting businesses hard and it’s hitting us hard and we wonder how we’re going to pay for this. Well, this is one of the ways. This will allow our sites to spend less on operational costs for supplies and that money can then go into staffing. At the same time, the sites are still getting quality materials.”
While regular classrooms will benefit from the use of these manufacturing supplies, Mehrten said afterschool programs, which rely on hands-on activities to keep kids engaged, will benefit most. There are 145 afterschool programs in the county and 70 of them are within Fresno Unified, he said.
While cost savings to these programs is one thing, Mehrten said what is more important is the impact these programs will be able to have on more students, specifically minority students.
“No one speaks to the 50 percent dropout rate with Latino and African American males, but it’s real and it’s shameful,” Mehrten said. “That is not the fault of the family in the inner city, that’s us, we’re failing there. I think this is something tangible we can do to help our afterschool programs, where we’ve already demonstrated that Latino and African American males involved are attending regular school 17 more days a year than those who aren’t involved in an afterschool program. That difference is huge. That is 17 more days of learning and that’s before introducing something like this. This has a direct link toward giving more of our highest risk kids an opportunity to be successful.”
Hanes said Los Angeles area teachers have already enjoyed seeing an increase in participation from students across the board.
“One of the teacher mentors we work with told us that before finding T4T he had about 50 percent participation in projects he was trying to do because kids didn’t have stuff to bring from home,” Hanes said. “He teaches in south central Los Angeles in an underserved community and once he took a membership at T4T, he set up a cart in his classroom and all the materials were there so all kids had to do was make their projects and there was 100 percent participation. It wasn’t that kids didn’t want to participate, it was that they felt embarrassed to say they couldn’t bring any supplies from home.”
In addition to offering discounted supplies to educators, T4T creates their own carts and tool benches for teachers to use. T4T also creates other projects to give teachers ideas for what to do with certain materials.
One of Hanes favorite projects for students is an AP Physics project: an audio headset. T4T recently tried the project with 8 to 11-year-olds in its summer program and though the concepts were advanced, Hanes said each kid learned how to do it and left with their own working headset.
“Kids get excited about making their own headset and through that excitement, we’re able to teach them how sound is transmitted,” Hanes said.
The most popular T4T project, however, is a cart created in collaboration with NASA. The NASA B.E.S.T. (Beginning Engineering, Science and Technology) program cart offers supplies for nine space-themed engineering projects.
The cart is what initially intrigued Price and FCOE, convincing them that T4T had to come to Fresno.
“I run training on Saturday mornings at Fresno State and we were training teachers on hands-on science. We brought in this person from NASA and he rolls in this cart and I asked where he got it, and I had to order one or two,” Price said. “That was four or five years ago and we’ve used the carts at Fresno State ever since. When I finally traced the source of the carts, I found T4T and met Leah.”
Now proud to welcome T4T to town, Price and Mehrten said the next step is to get local manufacturers onboard.
“This really is a nice reduce, reuse and recycle arrangement for manufacturers,” Mehrten said. “Right now, all these materials are from Los Angeles and Gardena, where the business originated, but we’re trying hard to have a local presence with local manufacturers as well. We just need to get the word out.”
For information on how to donate or become a member, visit www.T4T.org