- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

After years of handing over money for candy bars and wrapping paper, parents might see a new school fundraiser this year: their child’s art on a postage stamp.

ArtStamps, a Connecticut company, has begun converting student art into U.S. postage — marking the first time that children’s color drawings will appear on real 39-cent stamps.

Postage has long taken on personality, from pop icons to comic book heroes, sports stars to sports cars. One company even lets people put photos on stamps. Yet this one is for children. Their masterpiece might already be hanging on the fridge.

Like the dragon that 11-year-old Hannah Clark drew. She is turning it into her own stamp.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever drawn, actually,” said Hannah, who goes to Cielo Vista Elementary School in Southern California. “This is really cool. It’s better for kids, because it’s more fun to see your art on a stamp than someone else’s.”

ArtStamps formally introduces its product today after testing it in a couple schools last year. Each stamp features a child’s first name and age, and a title if the artist wants one.

A sheet of the stamps costs $20. Of that, $7.80 goes to the Postal Service — the same amount as usual for 20 stamps — and $3 goes to the school involved in the fundraiser.

The remaining $9.20 goes to the company, which says about $2 of that is profit.

Company President George Castineiras figured parents and grandparents would like the idea for the creativity it encourages, if not for the bragging rights.

“What I didn’t anticipate,” he said, “was how appealing it would be to the students, once they look at their art and realize, ‘Wait, this is going to move my mail around?’”

The Postal Service benefits by any increased interest in stamps and mail. With their own stamps, children may be motivated to write letters — a forgotten tradition in the age of e-mail.

Technically, the children’s artwork is called “personalized postage,” because the term “stamp” is reserved for items made or sold by the Postal Service. ArtStamps produces the children’s postage through Endicia, a licensed vendor of the Postal Service.

Hannah’s school district adopted the project as a fundraiser this year. Schools collect the drawings, the orders and the money, then ship them in and wait for stamps to arrive.

“There’s a ‘cool’ factor with it,” said Hannah’s dad, Chris, who leads the fundraising foundation for the school district. “The kids are actually making postage stamps.”

Plus, he said: “People get tired of the same old fundraisers. We all have a decade’s worth of wrapping paper. We can’t really go to our neighbors and ask them to buy more.”

Schools count on children to help raise money for band equipment, field trips and other classroom expenses that aren’t covered by tax revenue, especially in times of budget cuts.

Howie Schaffer, spokesman for a network of groups that raise private money for public schools, said students shouldn’t be burdened with fundraising. Foundations and corporations are a preferable source of supplemental money for schools, he said.

“The responsibility of children is to come to class and be ready to learn,” said Mr. Schaffer, who works for the Public Education Network.

“Nowhere does it say, ‘And when you’re out of class, we need to have you tap all your relatives to have them buy stamps or candy.’ That’s not a core competency of children.”

Some educators say art is a smart fundraiser, though. Schools can include the stamp design work into their art classes, or send a packet home so parents can be involved.

“It fits a need, especially with my higher-achieving students,” said Karen Ayres, the principal at Cielo Vista Elementary, where children are working on their stamps. “They want more opportunity for the arts. And with this, they’re not out door to door, selling candles.”

The company is pitching the fundraising idea, but schools don’t need to be involved. ArtStamps accepts orders for stamps and notecards from the general public, too.

There’s no editing involved, though there are limitations. Art will be rejected if it is obscene, or if it contains images of weapons, celebrity likenesses or political themes.

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