Select a question below about acquiring grants for school station equipment or resources for wireless technology instruction. Click on the question to expand for the answer.
A: First and foremost, you need to spend a lot of time developing the plan for what you want to accomplish, this will dictate the kind of station that you assemble to support that plan. Do your plans include in-class, extracurricular, or a combination approach? How will your planned ham radio activities support the curriculum that you are required to teach? Will you involve other teaching staff in the program? No one can develop the plan for you, nor is there any cookie cutter draft that would meet your needs that you can cut and paste your school name into the plan. Each plan is as unique and personal as the school, teacher, and students who will be executing the plan.
I hesitate to recommend a radio without seeing what is being planned. There are lists of equipment that have been granted to schools in the past, this list is available upon request, but will be provided only with the understanding that this is only a guide, your plan must take precedence. When you are looking for a radio that will be used in a school program, look for one that is easy to operate. All radios nowadays are basically microcontroller controller controlled and will require some programming. Some manufacturers have programming paradigms that are intuitive and easy to program, others not. Some radios are attractive because they have wide frequency coverage from 160 meters to UHF; on the flip-side, they are generally more expensive and more difficult to operate. Equipment needed for making satellite contacts is a separate discussion. If your interest is in preparing a station for an ISS contact through the ARISS program you will need to research the current ARISS recommendations to get a listing of the radio power and frequency step resolution suggestions and station configuration recommendations set by the ARISS program. These recommendations are more elaborate than needed for a casual FM satellite contact because of the need to maximize the communication window for the assembled audience and to provide redundancy in case of unexpected equipment problems. In many instances schools rely on loaned equipment for scheduled ARISS contacts.
If I were to recommend anything about the school radio, try to keep the radio generic if you are just looking to do casual operations (School Club Roundup, contacts and rag chewing, local VHF/UHF repeater contacts), and then look for a specific radio if you are looking to do more specialized operations (satellite communications, ARISS contacts, weak signal, QRP). If I were to set up a school station again (and I have done it a number of times over the years), I would look at a basic HF radio running around 100 watts (common, and avoid QRP radios…you will be disappointed in their performance in the classroom setting). I would add a basic 2 meter mobile radio running about 25-50 watts for VHF. Then if the program expands to include more exotic and specialized operations, get the appropriate resource as required to accomplish those modes.
Antennas are probably the most problematic part of your station. Will your school even allow you to install an antenna at the school? What are the school district policies concerning installing equipment on the school plant? Will you be required to use a certified contractor? Is the school maintenance staff required to do all installations? Are there community building codes that would prevent you from installing the antenna? These are just a few of the questions that you need to answer. Once you are confident that you CAN install the antenna, then you need to go back to your overall plan to see what kind of antenna will meet the needs of your plan.
As with the radios, your antenna should be simple and rugged. Many of the “high performing” antennas you see in advertisements are actually very difficult to construct and install, and once installed, many are very delicate and do not hold up to winds very well. I am not sure I would trust the advertised wind limits for some antennas. Then you have to consider the location of the antenna and the liabilities imposed by installing an antenna on campus. I have found over the years that a roof mounted multiband vertical antenna with radials for each band laying on the roof surface is about the simplest and most rugged antenna for a school environment.
A weather station idea would be easy to institute and you can see how many other teachers jump on board with that effort. The equipment would be requested under a Progress grant. What you would expect is the receiver, pre-amp, and NOVA software. You’d be expected to get the WXTOIMG (start out with the free version), build the antenna, and come up with the computer.
Once you get that program going, then think about the fox hunting. That equipment
(two of them probably) would be requested under a Progress grant also.
By time you get those parts of your program going, then for the hands on electronics, it would be best to get support from local sources because the supplies are expendable and would need to be replaced each year. You should consider ARRL grants as seed money that will help you get going, but sustained support should be sought from other sources…PTA, Site Councils, or local Ham groups.
The last step (or maybe your first, it depends on your plan) would be an ETP grant for a full up radio station at the school. The ETP grant is a one time opportunity. The Progress grants can happen as your program grows and changes directions.
The FEMA courses are very well done and very worthwhile not only for you but for your students. The independent study courses are free (paid for by taxpaper dollars). If you want to do more, have you thought about approaching the local fire district commission? Most fire districts have a budget line that goes toward community outreach. I bet that if you approached them with the specifics of your request and what you are doing (slant it toward giving the students exposure to public service, i.e., fire fighting) you will get some support.
ARRL Education & Technlogy Program Grants are available to provide equipment for school stations or other resources related to radio/ wireless technology classroom projects.
Grants from the ARRL Foundation provide seed money for new ideas.
Antenna selection and installation is about the hardest part of the school station to come up with; too many variables and too many restrictions. So each installation is unique and it would be impossible to give you a "one size fits all" recommendation. Additionally there are personal preferences based on experiences. Some hams swear by a particular antenna that is a "must" and others would recommend something totally different. So my recommendation on the Hustler antennas must be considered through those filters and from my experiences of installing antennas at school sites personally and from what I have seen over the years as others try to set up stations in schools. The first few things to remember is that any departure in size from the basic dipole will generally degrade the performance of an antenna...it is just physics. Most times reducing the size of an antenna is a necessary tradeoff that must be taken to get something in the air, so you have to accept the reduced performance. In the majority of cases the reduced size antennas will work satisfactorily and give your students a great ham radio experience. The other thing to try to remember, particularly in a school environment, is to keep the installation simple. You are generally not going to have unfettered access to the antenna at the school site to tweak the antenna or make repairs and adjustments. You also have to consider if the school will require that the antenna be installed by a professional or if the local hams will be allowed to do it. This makes a huge difference in the type of antenna you want to install. When I was in the classroom, I had a principal/superintendent who let me do anything I needed to do to install the antenna on the roof...until the school was getting the new roof, then he was a little more restrictive. When I was the school principal, I did what I wanted because the distances involved with the district office basically made me the on-site superintendent. Okay, now on to the specifics. In my experience, the Hygain antennas are relatively delicate and complicated to assemble, meaning they take frequent maintenance in high wind or high humidity/salt air environments. The attached radial system are shortened radials. The shortened radials are a far departure from the 1/4 wavelength radials that are most efficient to simulate the ground at the elevated location. On the Hustler trapped verticals (6BTV I think would give you 10-80, but not the WARC bands), it is a very rugged antenna and simple use of traps. It can be ground mounted without radials but it is rare that the ground conductivity is good enough for optimum antenna performance without even ground radials buried a few inches below the grass surface. I doubt that a ground mounted vertical would be acceptable at a school location. If the Hustlers are elevated, (and all verticals are this way) you have to attach at least 2-1/4 wave length radials for each band you want to use. The radials have to fan out around the base of the antenna. You could do this on a flat roof of a school, just have the radials lay on the roof surface with some sort of weight at the radial ends to keep them in place (small sand bags will work). I had good results with an alternative radial scheme that is detailed by DX Engineering for their radial kit. Their scheme is to put as many 20 foot radials around the base of the antenna as you can make, like a radial curtain around the bottom laying on the roof. This works very well, but it does require retuning the traps of the antenna (not a big deal, unscrew a clamp, move the parts, check with an SWR meter, tighten the screws). I use 20-20 foot radials on a ground mounted Hustler. I don't break pile-ups with the antenna, but when I make the kinds of contacts that I like to make (casual), I get acceptable reports...not 45 dB over 9, but S 7-9 at least...good enough to be reliably heard. You also need to realistically look at the type of operating you expect to do. Many teachers get over enthusiastic thinking that they are going to use all the bands and chase all the DX with their students and they want a first rate antenna installation for a DX power house. Nice, but in virtually every case, the school operation settles down to the basics, some 40 and 20 meter SSB casual contacts when the propagation gods get everything aligned, skip, bell schedules, time zone alignments etc. Because the WARC bands are not harmonics of the traditional bands (80-10 meters), antennas that cover the traditional bands and the WARC bands in one antenna tend to be very complicated, delicate, and expensive. You will have to determine if you really will use the WARC bands. So I really didn't answer your question, because I can't. It all comes down to what you want to do, and what your school will allow you to do, and what physical limitations you face at the specific school site. All I can recommend is that if you go to your local ham expert with all sorts of technical and operating experience for advice, take that advice and temper it with the realities you face as a classroom teacher in a restrictive school environment. Yes we would all like to have 150 foot towers with large beams and long wire dipoles being fed by 2KW linears, to maybe bust a pile-up to hear the DX operator say "you're 59 say again call sign?", but in most cases, simple 40/20 meter SSB stations will be about the most effective school station that supports your curriculum. One case in point; a school just had to have a Stepper IR vertical antenna for 20 meters and above, with a solid state linear amplifier because the 1st grade students were going to "talk to the world" and gain all sorts of cultural experiences...and this is the absolute minimum station required to do the job...according to the local ham elmer. The antenna cost over $600, we did not support the linear, the local club ended up ponying up the $6,000 to buy the linear. When I visited the school a year later, the antenna was still in the box, the linear had been used only one time because of all the interference it caused with the school IT network, and they had a home brew, single band (I think it was 20 meters) vertical pole for the antenna. Virtually all of the schools operating with the 1st grade students was with an HT using the local repeaters. When I recommend tempering the advice, that includes the advice I give you here!