June 2, 2011

Linking teachers with donors

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Picture story: Donorschoose.org
To learn more

For more information, visit www.donorschoose.org

The crime scene investigators — students in Maureen Howard’s life sciences class at Post Falls Middle School — had five suspect vehicles, only one of which contained the type of glass found at the car accident.

To find the vehicle that caused the crash, the investigators measured and weighed each piece of glass, determining its density and volume, until they found the culprit.

The “crime scene investigation” project is possible because of seven donors stretching from California to Washington, D.C., who provided the $344 Howard needed to buy beakers, magnifying glasses, ink pads for fingerprinting, and other materials.

Howard is one of dozens of Inland Northwest teachers who have received funding for a project through New York-based donorschoose.org. Teachers post projects on the website with descriptions of the materials they need and donors pitch in until the projects are funded. As school budgets have tightened, the website has provided dozens of teachers with the extra funding they need to bring education to life for students.

“It’s pretty cool. We’re able to actually use the glass to do something police officers would do,” said Post Falls student R.J. Clancy, 13. “Ordinarily, we’d be writing on paper and taking notes. This is more interactive.”

Said Howard, “I feel very strongly about the kids being able to do hands-on (projects). They’ll remember the glass lab and the DNA and the dissection. They will not remember the paperwork.”

In Spokane County, 136 projects have been funded by donorschoose.org, to the tune of $60,000. In Kootenai County, 38 projects have been funded for a total of $15,000. Projects range from buying “Scaredy Squirrel” books a Grant Elementary School third-grader “begged” for to supplying percussion equipment for a Coeur d’Alene High School music class.

“We know that very few things in this world hold the power to excite kids the way music can,” wrote a representative of the Country Music News Blog in Westville, Okla., which donated to the music class project. “We want to make sure the musicians of tomorrow have as many opportunities to experiment with all types of music.”

Each project has its own page on the website and teachers can interact online with each donor. Project costs are delineated and donorschoose.org notifies the teacher and principal when supplies have been purchased. Almost 94 percent of the donorschoose.org budget goes to the classroom projects.

The nonprofit was started in 2000 by a New York social studies teacher who sensed people wanted to help schools, but also wanted to see the impact of their donations, the website said. Charles Best created the organization to connect donors directly with classroom projects. Since it began, $84 million has been raised for schools, affecting almost 5 million students. Almost 180,000 teachers have posted projects at 46,000 schools nationwide. Some 40 percent of the nation’s public schools have submitted projects.

Donorschoose.org originally was funded by corporate sponsorships, but recently became self-sustaining, said Kirk Smiley, east region director. Some 60 percent of donations are supplied by corporations or foundations but thousands come from individuals giving as little as $1.

“It’s meeting a huge need in our public schools as budgets get tighter and tighter and teachers need more,” Smiley said.

More Inland Northwest teachers have applied to donorschoose.org since February, when Horace Mann insurance company, which specializes in coverage for teachers, became a corporate sponsor. Some 700 company agents nationwide, including Camy Popiel in the Inland Northwest, have been spreading the word to their teacher clients about donorschoose.org.

Popiel said the first teacher she knew of in the region who applied was a physical education teacher at Post Falls Middle School, who wanted to buy pedometers to encourage her students to exercise more.

“Teachers don’t have any money, and there’s no budget money,” Popiel said. “It’s worth your time to help out your schools. You can donate five bucks. Once someone in your school finds out about it, it goes like wildfire.”

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