Middle School Tabletop Game Club

Five years ago, during my second year of teaching at South Park Middle School, I went to my principal and asked to run a Tabletop Game Club. I felt this was important, because so many of our students come from diverse backgrounds and home lives. We are not from an affluent community and  students' personal lives run the gamut beyond the walls of our school. So I thought, at the very least, I could provide a new space for interested students while developing a healthy hobby. Thankfully my principal is open to offering students as many opportunities as possible and without missing a beat, said yes.

The club started small. I had a large black wooden box on wheels with shelves and I created a game vault to store games in the back room of my classroom. I started by bringing in some of my own games and I would introduce them to students who would come to club.  Over the years, however, we've built up a collection of games dedicated to the club. It's not large and the games in it are mostly small ones that work well during the lunch hour, but I'm proud of it overall.  Eventually my husband began to come in and teach games as well and it would become the responsibility of the veteran club members to teach newcomers games. It's not a perfect system and sometimes there are hiccups but it has worked very nicely for the most part.

Immediately after starting, I knew I wanted to try to get my students involved in a local game convention, so I had some club t-shirts made and we were invited to teach games in the Family Room at the convention, representing our school and club with pride. 

During this first year we were able to sell candy bars for 50% profit for our club and I used it to pay for games and the t-shirts and even an end of year pizza party. Since then, with new child health laws, we weren't allowed to sell candy bars in the school for fundraising anymore and the other fundraising opportunities either required too many people that we didn't have (restaurants need x-amount of people for a fundraising night) or the percentage to take in was too low. Plus our school does so many pizza, cup, and mixed fundraising that no one wanted to take home another fundraising packet.

Sadly I gave up on trying to raise money. I didn't stand a chance with writing grants when competing against people building stronger classrooms for student learning. At game conventions I would mention that I'm a teacher with a game club and I was able to receive some free games to add to our collection.  A few very generous parents bought us a game or two. One parent even gave us a $50 Amazon gift certificate to cover a game my club kids had been begging to buy. The vast majority of expenditure into the club comes from mine and my husband's own pockets, however. 

As the years went on, though, I felt I had created something wonderful! I was so confident I presented what I'd developed at a GenCon Trade Day Event (see the presentation here ).  The biggest question I was asked, though, regarded funding. People recommended connecting with local game stores, but I found out this year that the district won't help support our events if they are related to a profit-based company or organization , even though they're only offering us free hosting space.  

This past year our club has grown larger than it ever has before and we've put ourselves out into the community to a degree I had never even considered when I first started. It's been so successful that my aspirations for the future are high and my hopes are bright. 

Which is why I come to make this fundraiser now.

What our club does:
     ~ We teach kids and families games at local Game Conventions, which helps students become involved in the greater game community outside of school.
     ~ Develop an understanding and engagement in the larger gaming community so that when they leave our school, they can continue their passion.
     ~ We share and teach games at events hosted by schools in the Oshkosh Area School District.

    ~ Students learn games that build teamwork and communication skills.
     ~ We provide a safe social environment for students to come together. We consider ourselves a family and I have seen that connection carry on beyond my classroom and beyond their time at my school.
     ~ We improve the mind through the challenges of games.
     ~ We are open to all students at our school everyday, not just a select group of kids.

We are not an Oshkosh Area School District Funded Club.  
Everything we offer comes out of pocket from the adult volunteers and occasional donations from the community.

All donations go to:
     ~ Buying new games.
     ~ Replacing damaged or overplayed games.
     ~ Covering new t-shirts, lanyards, and other school branded gamer gear.
     ~ Promotional materials to get students involved in the club.
     ~Running RPG Events.
     ~ Attending local events (We're hoping to branch out and are thinking about attending cons that would require badges, transportation, and potentially lodging). 
     ~ Hosting our own monthly gaming lock-ins.
     ~ Developing our own community events (promotion, play-to-win items, etc.).
     ~ Yearly Participation Pins (Enamel D20s in red, white, and black, which are our school colors).
     ~ Graduation Game Collector Starter Bag (These are for our graduating 8th graders and will include a gamer tote with a favorite game the club member played over their 3 years, as well as the bag to carry games in, so that as they leave us, they have a start out in the real world. We're working on other swag to add to encourage them to keep on gaming as they go off into high school and beyond.)

(A photo from our March Lock-In.)

Any donations, no matter the amount, help us to keep this club going and growing. The kids generally pay for their food during cons and lock-ins minus special treats and the end-of-year pizza party that I provide.  They also  buy their shirts at the beginning of the year, which were originally purchased with fundraising money from our first year. However, I spend at minimum $300 a year out of pocket to help our club run and give the kids the best experience possible.  On a teacher's salary (which also goes to stocking my classroom with materials), it puts a bit of a dent in our personal finances. If I receive enough funding, I want to expand beyond basic game purchases to the Graduation Gift Bags (a new idea), event promotional materials (I've been pretty minimalist with that in the past, but hope to print color flyers and postcards for events.), and transportation cost for cons outside of Oshkosh.

So please help us continue to give these kids a quality place to keep building a community, learning about games, and, essentially, creating a family that they can still be a part of, no matter what happens beyond the walls of our gaming world.

Thank you for your help.

If you are a gamer, we also accept game donations in leiu of monetary contributions.


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Sarah Bonilla
Winneconne, WI

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