In modern classrooms, books and pencils are not the only things that teachers use to reach their students. However, with small budgets and limited resources anything outside of the essentials often comes out of a teacher’s pockets or doesn’t materialize at all.
Websites like DonorChoose.org let teachers crowdfund their educational needs; strangers, other teachers and local community members can contribute as little or as much as they want. In Florence School District One, several teachers have had success getting their projects funded. With the start of a new school year, hundreds of active campaigns are just waiting to be supported.
Timrod Elementary School Computer Lab teacher Toni Allen has had several campaigns funded through the website. She currently has two campaigns, one for Google Cardboard and one for headphones for the computer lab.
“I found out about the website the year that I was teacher of the year -- that was 2013-2014,” Allen said. “I helped put together the district’s slideshow and found out that all of these teachers were getting grants through DonorsChoose and I had no idea what that was. After the district banquet, I went online to check it out. I did two and was funded within a week.”
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Most of the campaigns Allen has had completed were for Hokki Stools for her lab.
“I have a lot of students that lean really far forward in their chairs or lean their chairs back and I was always telling them to put them down,” Allen said. “This way, they can move around and wiggle and I don’t have to tell them to stop.”
Throughout the course of several campaigns, Allen has gotten 13 Hokki Stools. She currently has live campaigns for new headphones and one for Google Cardboard; the one for headphones has yet to get any funding.
“It ends at the end of the month and I’m not sure it’s going to be funded,” Allen said. “Sometimes our headphones work and sometimes they don’t.”
Google Cardboard use virtual reality to take people to places around the world.
“I have seen Google Cardboard at several conferences and it is just awesome,” Allen said. “At one conference we did Antarctica and the rainforest. You can look and see what the ground looks like, what the sky looks like. We got to stand at the Grand Canyon and just see what was around. It seems like it would fit our kids really good because they can’t always go to those places.”
Patty Ward, kindergarten teacher at Carver Elementary School, said she would encourage all teachers to use DonorsChoose.
“The only way teachers can afford to get extra things for their classrooms is through DonorsChoose,” Ward said. “I’ve gotten stamps for a literacy center. I’ve gotten dominoes. I’ve gotten pattern blocks. I just got an easel from a project that was funded. I can’t afford all of this stuff myself; I wish there was a way that the district could provide a workshop on it. We are really blessed in Florence One because some districts don’t allow teachers to use it.”
Ward said that getting started is easy.
“You go in, put your name, your email address, what school you’re at, how many children you have and stuff like that,” Ward said. “It takes like five minutes to set up an account. You tell about what you are asking for and it would benefit your students. A lot of the donations are just a dollar; other times it is way more than a dollar. Every little bit helps.”
Though it can be disappointing when a campaign doesn’t get funded, Ward said the key is to keep trying.
“You don’t know until you try,” Ward said. “Teachers need to learn how to ask for help; people really do want to help. I highly recommend that teachers use DonorsChoose. Unfortunately, if their first one isn’t funded, a lot don’t ever do it again.”
Some donations come completely from individuals, while other campaigns are chosen to have matching grants from foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In one case, Ward said, her request was filled in an unorthodox way.
“One time I was asking for math manipulatives,” Ward said. “A teacher in New Jersey who had just retired saw my request and sent me a box full of them.”
After contributing to a campaign, donors receive a thank-you note from the teacher and often the students that will be affected.