Like many teachers, Joy McCook loves connecting the concepts she presents in her classroom to hands-on projects students can interact with.
As an oceanography and human-anatomy teacher at Bradwell Institute, McCook admits that funds for project materials — and even basic classroom supplies — are hard to come by.
In the past, public-school teachers have either paid for such supplies out of their own pockets or simply gone without. Nowadays, though, educators across the country are getting their classroom supplies and projects paid for through DonorsChoose, an online charity created by a former public-school teacher.
In 2000, Charles Best was a second-year social studies teacher in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. Concerned by the disparity he saw between the classrooms he’d been educated in and the ones he was teaching out of, Best created DonorsChoose as a “really simple, accountable and fun way for people to help students in need.”
The concept is a simple one: teachers post brief descriptions of their desired projects on DonorsChoose.org. The description includes what supplies are needed, why the project is important and, of course, how much money is needed to purchase the desired supplies.
Teachers pick out the supplies they need through DonorsChoose’s network of vendors. Once the project reaches its funding goal, DonorsChoose employees order the supplies and ship them directly to the teacher’s school.
“We’ve raised quite a bit of money and gotten a lot of projects,” McCook said, noting that she personally has had 72 classroom projects funded through Donors
Choose.org, totaling roughly $26,000 worth of supplies.
“The nice thing is … once (the projects) get funded, you can get the supplies here within a matter of a week at most, so it’s a direct turnaround,” she added.
McCook’s totals are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Overall, Liberty County School System teachers have had 432 projects funded — a total of over $166,000 worth of classroom supplies and materials.
To date, 13 of LCSS’ 14 learning sites have successfully funded projects using DonorsChoose.org. The largest Liberty County project to receive funding so far was a request for a three-dimensional printer in BI’s media center. Total cost for the MakerBot Academy 3D Printing Bundle — including vendor shipping charges, state sales tax, payment-processing fees, labor costs and an optional 15 percent donation to Donors
Choose — was $2,615.29.
Individual donors didn’t contribute all of those funds, though. DonorsChoose enables businesses to donate directly or to set up funding matches.
“After reading something online that hinted MakerBot might be partnering with DonorsChoose … I immediately submitted a request to (LCSS Chief Information Officer Dr. Patti Crane) to write a DonorsChoose project for one at BI,” said BI media specialist Melissa McCallar, explaining that requests for new technology must be approved by the school system. “I wrote the project that same evening, and it posted live on the DonorsChoose site the next day. As was rumored … MakerBot offered to fund all but the last $100 of any (DonorsChoose) projects for MakerBot 3D printers until all funds were depleted.”
McCallar explained that she and fellow BI media specialist Nikki Lukkarinen each donated $50 to complete the funding, making BI one of the first schools to receive a 3D printer through the promotion. She said that BI students have printed an anatomically-correct human heart and a replacement mouthpiece for a trumpet, among other items.
Aside from having technology requests vetted, there are no limits to what teachers may request through DonorsChoose. McCook said that each project must have a minimum cost of $100, but there is no maximum.
“I’ve seen $25,000 projects out there,” she said. “The sky is the limit.”
One of McCook’s current DonorsChoose projects is a request for four digital scales and eight triple-beam balances — worth $1,500 — that would be used by Bradwell’s science department. McCook also praised DonorsChoose for allowing teachers and stakeholders to support schools throughout their district, their state and the U.S.
“I’m a big Bradwell person, but I don’t want to support just Bradwell, because I want all of the schools in Liberty County together,” she said. “We should be united. We’re all going through the same struggles.”
To find out more about the program — or to donate to a project that needs funding — go to www.DonorsChoose.org.