Anyone who teaches in public schools knows well what it means to have extra funds to offer their children lessons that simply are not in textbooks. Integrating practical projects into classic book learning is often the means of inspiring children to do more than is required, to become creative, to solve problems and know the joy of success early in life. Teachers in the Brazos Valley have found an exciting, innovative means of funding projects in their K-12 classrooms through an organization known as DonorsChoose.org.
An extracurricular project or activity can often be the catalyst to provide inspiration for students. Yet, rarely are funds available in already very tightly controlled classroom, school and district budgets. PTOs and School District Foundations may have fund-raisers, but often those funds go to those from nearby underserved areas simply to help meet basic needs of all deserving students. So where do you go when you need just a little bit more money?
This is a question that all teachers will ask themselves at least once a semester, once a month, or once a week. It’s the nature of school funding, particularly in a state such as Texas, where the motto should be “We expect our public school teachers to do more, with less, and like it.” At least, that’s the perception under current state and local funding, but it’s likely applicable to more than one state.
Private funding is one solution, and if you ask any teacher, you’ll hear that “Yes, they used their own money or their own resources to try and help make a difference.” But, few teachers have sufficient personal means solution to meet their bills, let alone add into a classroom need for extras. The classrooms in greatest need are often located in communities that have below poverty level income for a working parent. It would be the same neighborhoods where children eat breakfast and lunch at school, so they have at least two meals a day for certain.
Yes, Texas sister-cities, College Station and Bryan have educational foundations, and yes, generous people in the community make donations to these foundations. But here, funds might be used to send a teacher to a workshop for training, or scholarships and teacher grants will be given to the competitive best proposals submitted by teachers for select consideration.
Say you’re a teacher with a great idea, but you don’t have the time or background to write the “winning grant proposal” at your campus, but you still need funding and the available funds are simply already gone, given out, disbursed widely and wisely, where do you turn? What if your community in the Brazos Valley is not large enough or sufficiently affluent to have even an education foundation?
In every problem there is a solution, and the power of one person, often discounted, is substantial. The story of Charles Best is a heartwarming one indeed. As a high school history teacher, Best was spending his own salary on school supplies. As the story on the DonorsChoose.org web site relates, in April 2000 had an idea to create a source of funding and discussed it with some fellow teachers, who were also self-funding school supplies. Best outlined a website where teachers could list their classroom needs and anyone with $5 could help. The first brainstorming session resulted in 10 teachers posting projects. Best wanted his idea to work, so he funded all the projects himself, anonymously, and later he enlisted the support of one of his relatives.
Fast forward to three years later, you know how when a certain book goes on Oprah’s Book Club list and goes from obscurity to New York Times best seller in a week’s time? Well, funny thing, the “Oprah Factor” applied in Charles Best’s case as well. One broadcast, Oprah mentions DonorsChoose.org, calls it “a revolutionary charity,” and, wait for it, the DonorsChoose.org web site crashed from all the traffic.
As the story continues, by the time the web site is restored, $250,000 has been donated for the projects. Three years later, after Hurricane Katrina, the DonorsChoose.Org site is opened to any public school in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Read their web site story for yourself and see how “Stephen Colbert gave away Jimmy Fallon’s money to art projects there” and catch the excitement behind the momentum of the organization, the reality of one person being able to truly be the difference for an important classroom project anywhere. Then, in the Brazos Valley communities that border Texas A&M University, envision yourself checking to see what programs in the schools down the street could realize a goal with your help.
Whether you have $5, $50, $500 or $5,000, every gift counts. If you type in the zip code 77802, a page of projects comes up that require (total costs) only $410, $853, $261, $823, $907, $704, and $329. Some projects have only one donor currently, others have three donors; it varies. As one example, Mrs. Marcom, at Milam Elementary School (Highest Poverty Level) in Bryan, requests $907 for a quality document camera for teaching writing and especially for shared writing.
Mrs. Marcom’s request is clear and concise:
I want my students to be writers at the end of the school year! The biggest challenge to getting them there is that they don’t know how to write. They have wonderful ideas and experiences to share, but they do not know how to get their thoughts on paper. I want my students to feel safe writing.
Her project explanation and factual support information is one page that takes two minutes to read. She needs only $842 and has three donors so far. Grant funding period has only 33 more days left. If she doesn’t raise all the funds, the donations that have been given can be directed to other projects (by the donors) or the donors will receive DonorsChoose.org gift cards, to apply to some other future project. All gifts are fully tax deductible and online giving is made extremely easy.
As we each think of end-of-year giving, as we think of offering gifts to friends and family, it might be an innovative way to resolve the eternal “what to give question,” to scroll through the local projects listed, donate in honor of a family member or friend and know that every gift really counts. There’s a new opportunity all the time, thanks to DonorsChoose.org, to make a difference in the lives of children right here at home. Charles Best is a grand example of one person making a difference that, some fourteen years later, has helped reach 13,048,701 students, 208,800 teachers, and has involved over 1,556,573 supporters.
What will you do today? What can you do today? The possibilities are infinite. The answer begins in the power of one.
[For more information on DonorsChoose.org and to learn about Sonic’s “Limeades for Learning” program in conjunction with DonorsChoose.org, read the related stories suggested at the end of this story.]