The generous students at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in California are very familiar with the concept of giving. After all, they raised and donated $2,500 to a Web site called DonorsChoose.org that gives school supplies to classrooms all over the country just like their own.
While teaching at a school in the Bronx, N.Y., seven years ago, Charles Best learned firsthand how much teachers spend on their classrooms.
"Most of my colleagues and I would spend our own money on copy paper and pencils, but for the most part we saw our students going without materials and experiences they needed for a great education," he said.
Best also learned, through a study conducted by Quality Education Data, that he and his fellow teachers were not alone. "The average is $500 … that public school teachers spend out of their own pockets … on school supplies every year, that's more than a billion dollars in total."
In an effort to maintain these expenses and afford supplies that teachers otherwise could not attain, Best founded DonorsChoose.org.
From pencils to computers to field trips, teachers from across the country can post their ideas and needs by writing their proposals in a few short, descriptive paragraphs. Then, anyone who wants to be a donor can visit the site, select a project and fund it for as little as $10.
By browsing through just a few proposals, it's easy to see how important a resource such as DonorsChoose can be to schools. From the most basic requests to the most innovative, teachers are determined to make their classrooms a better place.
One teacher writes: "Something as simple and as obvious as paper can make a huge difference in the lives of under-resourced students." Another teacher is concerned for the safety of the students, "At the present time my children are sitting in chairs that are not safe. We are using anything we can find to sit in, from folding chairs to broken and cracked chairs." Another teacher simply states, "I am in desperate need of electric pencil sharpeners."
Lisa Untch, a teacher at an elementary school in Brooklyn, N.Y., can relate. She and her students used to go across the hall to another classroom just to sharpen their pencils and she currently uses old socks as erasers for her dry erase board because she has no real eraser.
These may seem like simple items to buy or replace, but the costs add up, especially because Untch is already struggling to pay off the student loans she accumulated in her efforts to become a teacher.
"It's an obstacle for the kids," Untch said. "It breaks my heart when these kids don't have just the basic things that they need." Even when she does obtain a few new pencils, she says that the "Pencil Monster" must eat them, because before she knows it, they are gone. As soon as Untch found out about DonorsChoose, she put in her request. It was modest, but a donor funded her request for paper, pencils, pens and a pencil sharpener. Now her students will be able to do something as simple as complete an assignment.
When the box was opened in her classroom, the students were as excited with the delivery as their teacher. "Wow! Look at that, Miss Untch!" one student exclaimed. Untch says she feels grateful that she can "turn to organizations such as DonorsChoose.org as a solution to overcome the obstacle created by the lack of basic supplies." So much so that she has already put in another request that, if fulfilled, could enable her to finally throw out all those old socks and replace them with new erasers.
Students Helping Students
On the other side of the country, the fourth- and fifth-grade students at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in San Ramon, Calif., are funding projects just like that of Untch's class. And where did these youngsters get the money? They planted 5,000 flowers and sold them to their community, earning $2,500 that was later matched, making a total of $5,000.
Their proud teacher, Lauren Kim, said, "You know, I'm really proud of my students … who want to do something nice for others and they enjoy doing it. … So as a teacher it's really great to see a group of students working together and doing something great."
Not only are classrooms getting the essentials that they need through DonorsChoose, but donors are feeling fulfilled as well. The young philanthropists at Neil Armstrong have learned so much. "Well, it makes you feel great because you know that you just made someone else's day besides yours," said a fifth-grader involved in the project.
In the last seven years since DonorsChoose.org has been established, many people have had their days made. To date, 871,373 students have received more than $17 million in funding,and almost half of that amount in just this year alone.