Why Do Teachers and Students Love DonorsChoose.org?
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Ahh, Starting the School Year with Fresh Supplies
‘Back to school’ is a phrase filled with hope … hope for opportunities to learn, to make friends, and to take one step closer to a bright future. Since my first day of kindergarten, I have loved organizing my new school supplies, hearing the shave of the sharpener on a wooden pencil, and seeing the reflection of my outfit in the gloss of the hallway floors. Decades later, as a parent and a teacher, the back-to-school anticipation still gives me that thrill.
With all the promise that a new school year brings, however, it also can bring financial strain to families and teachers. My wish is that no one would have to start the school year with worries about how to pay for it all. The organization DonorsChoose.org helps to lessen that burden for those of us in public schools.
Compassionate donors — people like you and me — provide books, supplies, and technology to classrooms around the country. I’ve had projects funded that I wouldn’t otherwise have dreamed of for my classroom because of the prohibitive costs. Now my students can do the dreaming, and I can say, “Yes,” to their ideas rather than “That would be nice some day.”
What Is This Organization That Helps Schools?
DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone who wants to help teachers and students get the supplies they need for the classroom. Teachers post projects on the DonorsChoose.org website, and donors can choose which projects to support. Donors can give any amount (from a dollar on up) toward whichever projects inspire them. All donors receive pictures on the DonorsChoose.org website of the students with their materials and an impact letter from the teacher. Donors who contribute $50 or more can opt to have students write them personal thank you letters.
We Are All In This Together
Please take two minutes to watch this video about DonorsChoose.org. It explains what the philanthropy is about better than I could do.
My Classroom is a Success Story
I first learned about DonorsChoose.org in August 2011 when my teacher friend Briana Bancroft told me about the success she had in getting projects funded for her elementary school classroom. Over the years, I had applied for many grants and donations through various organizations; however, with limited funding from the organizations and lots of applications from eager teachers, it was hit or miss (mostly miss). Although I was skeptical, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The first project I submitted to DonorsChoose.org — “Engaging Reading for Teens: We Can’t Put These Books Down” — requested 42 books for literature circles. Eleven days later, I received an email saying, “Congratulations! Your project is fully funded.” When I saw the message, I was at the library checking my e-mail, and it took just about everything I had not to jump up and celebrate right there. It is a huge deal to my students to have access to engaging books. Our school library, which is only open one day a week, only gets new books through the Scholastic Book Fairs held at our school. Because new books are not readily available to our students, it is especially important for me to be able to hand a student a book like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars or Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Ship Breaker that I know will make them want to keep reading.
After getting that first project funded, I wondered if I might have more success. I decided to post a technology project for an e-reader in the classroom. Less than a month later, a NOOK was on its way. Over the next two years, my class continued to get every project funded that we posted. To date, we have had 35 projects funded for our classroom, including the donations of expensive technology such as an iPad, a MacBook Air, a Canon Digital Rebel SLR camera kit, and an Epson document camera.
How Much Do Families Spend on School Supplies and Activities?
It Depends on the Grade Levels of Their Children
Here are some statistics. The 2014 Huntington Backpack Index issued by Huntington Bank shows that on average parents will end up paying this much in back-to-school costs: $642 per elementary student; $918 per middle school student; and $1,284 per high school student. According to the study, these costs have increased dramatically over the past several years at a rate much higher than general inflation — up to a 20 percent increase just since last year. Click on the graphic, courtesy of Huntington Bank, to find out more details about the 2014 Backpack Index. It’s a study with interesting results. If you have children in band, much of the cost comes from instrument rentals. There are sports fees, Advanced Placement test costs, and more that we might not automatically consider but that do add up quickly. Technology demands increase, too. The cost of a flash drive, for example, has been added to the total.
How Much Do Teachers Spend of Their Own Money on Classroom Supplies?
Hmmm … Let Me Think About That … Too Much!
How many of you spend a lot of your own money on supplies that you need for work? In most professions, the items that you need to do your job are typically provided for you. In the teaching profession, however, that is not always the case. A friend shared a meme on my Facebook wall that says, “Teaching: The only profession where you steal supplies from home.” That rings too true. Here are more statistics. According to a 2013 National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) Retail Market Awareness Study in which 398 teachers were surveyed, teachers said they spent on average $945 on materials for their classrooms. About half of that was paid for through the schools, but teachers reported spending on average $485 of their personal income on school supplies in the 2012-13 school year. This totaled $1.6 billion that teachers spent out of their own pockets. A full 99.5 percent of teachers reported spending their own money on school supplies, instructional materials, and other classroom materials (tissues, clean-up wipes, etc).
A Student-Led Writing Project
When I think about new ideas for DonorsChoose.org projects, I often check the organization’s Partner Funding Opportunities page. Companies will partner with DonorsChoose.org to offer “Double Your Impact” funding, which is when they will pay for 50 percent of your project costs if it meets their criteria. An example of one of the Double Your Impact offers that I sought was ABC Family’s “Bright Student, Big Ideas” campaign. ABC Family asked teachers to submit a project idea developed by the students. I had my English 10 students get into small groups and brainstorm ideas of what they’d like to do. Then I compiled all the suggestions and had the students vote on their top pick. It turns out they wanted to do a Poetry Cafe. Their idea was to read poetry, write their own poems, bind their poems into individual books, and then — the part they most looked forward to — host a Poetry Cafe in which they would share their poems. What excited them the most was that they wanted to request a Keurig coffee machine and order a variety of coffees, hot chocolate, apple cider and teas.
The beauty of DonorsChoose.org is that it encourages creativity. Some might say teachers only should submit projects for basic needs such as paper and pencils. However, the name ‘Donors Choose’ comes from the idea that the donors can pick which kinds of projects they want to support. Some donors prefer to fund projects requesting essential needs, and others look for projects with those special, creative touches. Because the students really wanted this coffee maker for their poetry event, I decided to support them in trying. If drinking a cup of coffee gets a student excited about writing poems, then I’m all for it! In the project, the students developed a request for 19 poetry books, a digital voice recorder, a microphone and stand, a spotlight, a coffee maker and coffee, and colored card stock to make their poetry books. We kept our fingers crossed, and one month later the project was funded.
Tips for Teachers
How to Find Success With DonorsChoose.org
I don’t want to give anyone the impression that teachers can just slap together project requests and that they will automatically get funded. The opposite is true. I take many steps to put together quality projects, to promote the projects, and to build rapport with donors. Here are four tips for teachers:
1. Have parents sign photo permission slips at the beginning of the school year. That is when they are filling out other forms anyways and the time when you are most likely to get all the slips returned. It is important to respect all privacy requests. Here is the form to use:
2. Show passion. In the project proposals, share what your students are like and why this project is important to them. If you are excited about the project, your donors will be too.
3. Share your project. Post it on Facebook. Get your students to talk about it with parents. Tweet or e-mail your project ideas. I get donations from philanthropic citizens around the country, but I also have friends and family who support my projects. When you have several friends each give $5 to a project, that helps a lot. I support many other teachers’ projects, too, by giving a dollar here and there through giving pages that I find on Facebook.
4. Be thankful. It is important to thank your donors in a timely manner. They like to see that their donation makes a difference. I have my students take lots of pictures of each other so that we have good ones to share on the project page. I write a detailed thank you note to the donors and try to share stories about how the project affected students. Also, I ask the students to get creative with their thank you letters. For the Poetry Cafe project, for example, students wrote their thank you letters as poems, illustrated them, and bound them into a book just like their own poetry books. Some students wondered if ABC Family would even read their poems. Well, after submitting the thank you package, here is an e-mail that we received from DonorsChoose.org:
Dear Mrs. Hollands,
We just wanted to thank you for putting together such nice feedback for “Poetry Cafe: A Student-Led Writing Project with ABC Family” You can be confident that your feedback inspired contributions to more classrooms.
We deeply appreciate your effort and have noted what great feedback you put together.
We Are Family
Sharing Books With Elementary Students
After getting the exciting news that my students’ Poetry Cafe project was funded, I received a voice mail from DonorsChoose.org encouraging me to submit another student project for ABC Family funding. In the message, I also was encouraged to spread the word to other teachers. This was good timing because many of my students had their hearts set on a second project. They wanted to study the craft of writing children’s books, write and illustrate books of their own, and then share their books with elementary school students.
We didn’t need a lot of supplies for this project because I already had a comb binder for their books. They suggested that we order a good camera for the classroom; up to that point we had been using my daughter’s point-and-shoot camera. The students said they wanted to laminate the pages as well as the cover, so we also ordered some rolls of lamination plastic. This turned out to be one of the best projects we ever did in my class. I was so impressed with the quality of work that the students put in while creating their books, and many parents commented on how the books would be keepsakes in their families. I learned a valuable lesson from the poetry and children’s book projects that if you involve students in the planning process that they will get engaged and throw their full effort into the unit. This is when you see their incredible creativity and passion. By the way, I did tell two other teachers about the ABC Family campaign. They both submitted projects and got them funded. These teachers have had many more projects funded since that time. The blessings continue to spread, and that’s why I like to share what I know about DonorsChoose.org.
Have a Great School Year!
Please check out the DonorsChoose.org website at the link below. Also, go see my personal teacher page on the DonorsChoose.org website. Teachers, feel free to borrow ideas from my past or present projects.
I am giving away a $25 DonorsChoose.org gift card (courtesy of DonorsChoose.org) to one lucky reader who comments here about what you love about back-to-school time. You can apply the gift card to any project of your choice. A random winner will be drawn via Rafflecopter. Also, to help spread the word about DonorsChoose.org, please like and share this post on Facebook, tweet the link, and/or pin the contest image on the top of the page on Pinterest. Also, please follow this blog if you are interested. Thank you! Good luck!
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