By Polly Keary, Editor
This is not your father’s fundraiser. Bake sales and levies are the most traditional ways of raising money for schools, but today there’s a new way, and some Monroe teachers are making the most of it.
Donorschoose.org. is one of many crowdsourcing websites to proliferate in recent years, but unlike Kickstarter, by far the most famous, Donorschoose.org is specifically for classroom projects.
Through Donorschoose.org, teachers can post classroom needs or wishes such as arts and craft supplies, science equipment or computer technology. Teachers also post how much the need will cost, and establish a deadline by which the goal must be reached. Supporters can then pledge amounts toward the total, and when the goal is reached, the supporters’ credit cards are charged and Donorschoose.org buys the materials or equipment and ships them to the teacher.
Supporters get photos of the projects or supplies in use, a letter of thanks from the teacher and a clear explanation of how each dollar was used. Those who give more than $50 also get handwritten letters of thanks from students.
If a fundraiser doesn’t meet its goal in the specified timeline, donors get their donations returned as account credits which then can be used to pledge to other projects.
Although not as famous as its enormous counterpart Kickstarter, Donorschoose.org has been around longer. It was started by a Bronx teacher in 2000, and got a huge boost when Oprah Winfrey called it a “revolutionary charity” in 2003, whereupon the website got so many hits it crashed. In 2007, Donorschoose.org opened to every school in the country, and political commentator and comedian Stephen Colbert became an advocate. Now the organization has set a goal of collecting $100 million from at least 1 million people to go to projects in 100 percent of America’s high-poverty schools, all in a single school year.
The site is searchable by zip code, and a search for the Monroe zip code generally turns up several projects.
One teacher who has run a number of successful projects is Nick Wolfe, a science teacher at Monroe High School.
Wolfe typically tries to double his school budget each year by seeking grants, and Donorschoose.org has given him a new tool to furnish his classroom with science teaching aids.
The first project he posted was a request for funds for some tools. That was a success, so he did others, including a recent one for astronomy equipment to complement the telescope that he recently acquired. There are many things that would be great for kids, but that aren’t realistic without extra help, he went on, things like school trips.
“Trips; that’s where we really, really lack,” said Wolfe. “Going to competitions clear in Pullman, that’s expensive. There’s no room in the budget to buy that kind of stuff.”
Although Donorschoose.org is a helpful tool, Wolfe has mixed feelings about it, as he fears the district could begin to look to teachers more often to find their own funding for needed things.
“I want to shout its praises but I don’t want the district putting more burden on the teachers,” he said. “It’s a band aid rather than a vaccine.”
Another recent project that got funded was for a large 8’x13’ “Story Time Animal Rug” for Mrs. Sweeney’s kindergarten class at Frank Wagner Elementary. The cost was $470, $599 after sales tax, shipping, labor and materials and a processing fee. Donors also made a $105 donation to Donorschoose.org, which was optional. That meant in all, donors gave $705 to the project.
Currently, Mrs. Whitehouse at Fryelands Elementary is seeking digital camera technology to help her students learn to read.
“In kindergarten, the goal is to be able to compose simple sentences using a mix of known sight words and inventive (sound out) spelling,” she wore in the project description. “Often students will draw pictures and do corresponding writing. However, that can get monotonous! My students need six digital cameras; they would allow for students to take photos of events, objects, and places, and use those images to spring forth writing.”
For example, she said, they could take a picture of a tree and then label all the parts, or of a friend, and then write reasons why they are friends and so on.
“If my project is funded, it will help ignite students’ excitement for writing by giving them a novel way to complete pieces. Since they come from a technologically advanced world, bringing digital cameras into the classroom will support the growth of technology skills. They will have a collection of writing that is personal to them as it contains their own images. This supports self confidence, self esteem, and seeing themselves as having something important to say,” she wrote.
The fundraising goal is $322, and has been listed for a week. So far there have been no donors, but there are about 40 days to go.
It’s hard asking parents and donors for funding, said Wolfe. But he’s learned that people are glad to help.
One parent explained why, he said.
“It gives the public a chance to invest in their own kids; say, ‘Hey, my kids aren’t getting what they need,’ or ‘They are jazzed about science; let’s support it,’” he said. “One person told me, ‘If you’re excited enough to ask for it, I’m happy to help pay for it.’”
Find our more at www.Donorschoose.org.org.