Books. Pencils and paper. Chalkboards. Classic tools of learning, to be sure, but RAFT Colorado thinks the following items may be even more effective (and fun): Sock tops. Bottle caps. Cardboard tubes. Paper coffee filters. Plastic straws. Those are the kinds of materials that RAFT, a resource center that focuses on upcycling inexpensive stuff into hands-on learning projects, specializes in. Kids learn how to make flashlights using aluminum foil, make magnetic mazes using paperclips, investigate spatial reasoning using old wine corks, and blow up balloons using vinegar and baking soda.
And for teachers, who spend an average of $500 a year of their own money for school supplies, RAFT is a godsend. RAFT, which supports more than 4,000 teachers and impacts more than 250,000 students in 28 Colorado counties, gets a lot of its teaching materials through donations; it redirected close to 30,000 cubic feet of waste from state landfills last year.
RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching) Colorado opened its doors in 2009 after Carrie and John Morgridge of the Morgridge Family Foundation learned about RAFT San Jose, the birthplace of the concept. “They are both really passionate about supporting education through teachers and they loved the concept of RAFT,” says founding executive director Stephanie Welsh. Though connected by name, RAFT Colorado is its own organization and the only RAFT center outside California.
How it works
RAFT Colorado offers educational professionals, including teachers, homeschooling parents, and Boys and Girls Clubs, new materials (from fabric and foam to pens and markers to paper tubes and collage supplies) at up to an 80 percent discount (90 percent if used). It also has a teacher workspace filled with tools like laminating and bookbinding machines, as well as a private rentable workspace and a mobile RAFT-on-Wheels that travels to schools in rural parts of Colorado.
For those teachers who need help getting started, RAFT provides free idea sheets that come with pre-assembled activity kits. “Everybody in our store has an educational background and knows how to use materials to support learning,” Welsh says.
How you can help
Individuals and businesses can donate materials and funds or volunteer. “We love people who need to satisfy their inner OCD,” says Welsh. “People can help us sort and classify things, put together prep kits, and help us take stuff we can’t use to Goodwill. People can also drink lots of wine and give us their corks— teachers use them for so many things!”
RAFT is always looking for CDs, jewel cases, colored bottle caps, and gently used art supplies. And at RAFT’s annual Upcycle event, its primary fundraiser, the 30,000-squarefoot resource center turns into an interactive space where adults can experience the power of hands-on learning. The next Upcycle will take place in spring 2019.
Upcycled materials for classrooms
3827 Steele St.