Wilmette, Community

How moon real estate and a box of spiders help fund education innovation at Avoca District 37

Did you ever hear about a new school program and wonder, “How did they pay for that?” In Avoca District 37, the answer may surprise — and scare — you.

A box of tarantulas. A pair of cemetery plots. A raptor tooth. They are all items in a silent auction that fundraises to support Avoca D37 teaching innovation grants and other educational tools and programs.

The auction, which is live and runs through Feb. 26, is run by the Avoca Parent Teacher Council and more specifically, its president, Ross Friedman, who spends days securing the auction items.

“I always try to keep people’s interest up,” he said. “This year specifically I went for shocking types of items.”

Friedman is driven by what he considers an underwhelming fundraiser in his first year as PTC president. In 2021, the auction raised $5,400, about 33 percent shy of its goal ($8,000). The next year, with the same goal, Friedman approached it from a new angle.

It worked. The silent auction, complete with more and speciality items, raised more than $29,000.

“That felt terrible to me as I don’t want to come up short for our teachers,” Friedman said about the 2021 fundraiser. “That was what spurred me on for 2022, and now we expanded our Innovation Grants program.”

This time around, Friedman really dug deep. He said he uses email to get most of the items in the auction. The auction contains plenty of traditional items, such as restaurant gift cards, vacation packages and event tickets, but the unusual listings are of particular interest.

And Friedman said many companies are glad to donate, such as Fossilera.com, which gave a 95-million-year-old dinosaur (raptor) tooth; Mile High Meteorites, which provided a piece of meteorite that landed in Kanas in 1881; or Lunar Embassy, which donated an acre of land on the moon.

And yes, you can really bid on a box of live spiders courtesy of Spider Shoppe.

The wild items are among 400 in the silent auction, and Friedman expects that number to be close to 600 when all is said and done. As of press time, Feb. 2, the auction has raised more than $14,000 toward its $25,000 goal. Friedman hopes the event can reach $50,000 by closing time, which aligns with Avoca’s Fun Fair on Feb. 26.

With that sort of result, even more Avoca projects can be funded.

Avoca Superintendent Dr. Kaine Osburn explained that the district cannot fund every idea or project, but with the support of the auction and PTC, district educators have a chance to see more of their ideas come to fruition.

“We have an amazing staff and they regularly see opportunities to try new things in the classroom to improve learning that often don’t happen in a traditional budget cycle,” Osburn said. “(The auction funding) makes it possible to try out ideas and activate them much more quickly and a scale to see if they work.”

In the recent past, innovation grants have funded adaptive furniture for students with special needs, a sensory area to help calm and support all students, translation ear buds for English-language learners, and a classroom-sized map of Illinois to add interest to geography lessons.

To help promote the auction, Friedman utilizes a Facebook page dedicated to Avoca parents, and often posts humorous messages to highlight an auction item.

Though the auction funds Avoca District 37 projects, it is open to the public, including anyone interested in investing in moon real estate.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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