Shark Week Revisited: Anatomy of a Funded 21st CCLC Grant

My grandson was finally old enough this year to be as excited about Shark Week as much as I am. I love learning about sharks as much as I love being a grant peer reviewer. I served as a peer reviewer for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) grant, a program I’ve written many proposals for in the past. This federal program funds extracurricular programming outside of the regular school day, and it is one of my favorite grants. What can we learn from sharks and peer reviewing to create better grant proposals?


In the 2019 Shark Week episode, Expedition Unknown: Megalodon, we learn about Carcharocles megalodon, which means “giant tooth.” Over three million years ago, the megalodon (meg) became extinct. The meg was 60 feet long, 12 feet high, weighed 60 tons, and had an 11-foot mouth with 276 teeth. It feasted mostly on whales, but about three to four million years ago, the number and size of whales decreased, forcing the meg to eat smaller whales and seals. This put megs in direct competition with mako sharks and great whites for food. The Great White is 20 feet long, swims 35 miles per hour, and breaches at a 40 g-force to catch seals. That g-force is like a human being struck by a car. Compare that to the fact that a meg could only swim 15 miles per hour and had a bite force of 360 pounds. In addition, the meg probably had to eat 25 pounds per day, which equals 10 seals. The great white survives on one seal per week. Scientists believe that the great white was most likely the ultimate doom for megs. Great white shark efficiency wins!


Here are some great white efficiency tips learned from serving as a grant reviewer.

  • Compare data such as school district academic achievement statistics to state data to drive home the need for the program.
  • Back up your risk factors with strong data. For example, if you state that students going home to an empty house after school is a risk factor, explain why that leads to poor academic achievement.
  • If you cite a need such as high crime in a community, make sure you address that need in your program goals, objectives, activities, and logic model.
  • Spell out acronyms and explain all terms used. Grant reviewers are usually instructed not to look up anything in the proposal that they are unclear about, and they cannot read your mind.
  • When answering funder questions, go above and beyond the basics.
  • When answering a question about how fiscal resources will be managed, include items from a finance, procurement, or business management policy that will help the reviewer trust your ability to adequately manage funds. Address staff time and resources needed.


Whew, I could go on and on like I wish Shark Week would, but I’ll stop. I hope these suggestions help you attack that next grant like a great white would to survive.



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