Portland teachers turn to crowdfunding for classroom materials

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PORTLAND — Tight budgets often mean teachers turn to alternative sources to get the educational materials their students need.

With crowdfunding websites showing they work well for all sorts of efforts, teachers in the Portland schools have increasingly been turning to an organization called Donors Choose to supplement their classroom offerings.

In the past eight years Sylvie Montello, partnership developer at Lyseth Elementary School, said various teachers in the district have received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of support from Donors Choose.

“This site has been a blessing for teachers since school budgets are so tight,” Montello said. “They are able to request and get materials that make a positive impact on their students” and they likely wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.

Montello acts as a local community coordinator for Donors Choose, a nationwide nonprofit with a mission of “connecting the public to public schools,” according to the organization’s website.

Donors Choose provides a platform where teachers from any school across the country can post projects and request materials from books to new technologies to classroom furniture, as well as funding for field trips or special presenters.

Members of the public log on to choose which projects they wish to support with their donations. Once a project is 100 percent funded, Donors Choose purchases the items and mails them directly to the school. Every donor receives a thank-you letter from the teacher, photos from the classroom and a report of how each dollar was spent.

Teachers at Portland schools have more than 20 projects listed on Donors Choose. The requests for support range from 3D pens to classroom furnishings to make the learning environment more engaging.

“My role as a community coordinator is to connect teachers to this website,” Montello said. “I usually help them register and post their first project. Once their first project gets funded, they are hooked. Whenever I am approached by staff for materials or funding, I (now) send them in Donors’ direction.”

On its website, Donors Choose says, “We make it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need, moving us closer to a nation where students in every community have the tools and experiences they need for a great education.”

The nonprofit, it was started in 2000 by Charles Best, a teacher at a high school in the Bronx, New York, who wanted his students to read “Little House on the Prairie.”

As he was making photocopies of the one book he could get his hands on, Best “thought about all the money he and his colleagues were spending on books, art supplies, and other materials. And he figured there were people out there who’d want to help if they could see where their money was going,” the website states.

That’s when he sketched out an idea for the website. Today, 74 percent of public schools in the U.S. use Donors Choose to get funding for needed classroom items.

Donors Choose is also supported by several corporations, including Google, Target, 3M and Disney, along with such organizations as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Donors is awesome, it’s that simple. Since I started posting projects I have gotten over $17,000 in projects funded,” Joan Murray, a fourth-grade teacher at Reiche Elementary, said. “There are many items that I have had funded that are necessities for particular projects, but some are also items that are just nice to have, such as pencil sharpeners that actually work and a set of clipboards.”

Emily Serway, an art teacher at Longfellow Elementary, has also turned to Donors Choose many times.

“I’ve had great success with Donors Choose. I think it’s a wonderful platform both for giving funds to specific kinds of projects, as well as for receiving funds,” she said.

“Donors Choose makes a huge difference in the lives of my students,” Serway added. “Last year we received paint and brushes to create a mural in the basement near the art room. Every student at Longfellow participated in the creation of that mural and they feel a deep sense of ownership of it.”

And earlier this year she also received a Donors Choose grant to conduct a Zen Doodle project that “blended mindfulness, meditation and art. The kids loved it. I had parents calling me to ask what kind of pens to buy their kids. What a great transfer of learning to everyday life.”

Right now Serway is seeking almost $2,000 to buy pens and filament that will allow her students to create three dimensional art.

On her project page at Donor Choose, she said, “The world of drawing has evolved. Art is changing as technology changes. Modern visual literacy means that students need to have a hands-on understanding of how technology is used to make art.”

Serway said, “I want to encourage my students to be on the cutting edge of understanding new materials and media. I want to give them the opportunities to create art with modern technology.”

Tracy McGhie, a teacher at Ocean Avenue Elementary, is seeking $558 from Donors Choose to get new classroom furniture for her students.

That money would be used to buy items like bean bag chairs, yoga balls, stools, rugs to lie on or even a standing station, which would allow her students to change their seats throughout the day as each activity or their comfort level warrants.

On Donors Choose she said, “Young children spend hours in the classroom, why should it have to be sitting in one spot at an uncomfortable desk all day? Research (shows) that alternative seating can help students’ attention spans, which results in higher achievement (and) makes students more actively engaged in the classroom.”

McGhie has had three other projects funded through Donors Choose and calls the website “a wonderful resource.”

“Because of Donors Choose, I can offer things in my classroom that students in a more wealthy school district might have,” she said. “People should use this form of supporting schools because this support goes straight into the classroom (and) it has an immediate impact on students.”

Overall, McGhie said, “Posting a project is fairly easy and people are happy to support (the requests). It’s a win-win.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Tracy McGhie, a teacher at Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Portland, is seeking $558 from Donors Choose for new classroom furniture, such as these yoga balls, that are becoming popular in schools across the country.

Emily Serway, an art teacher at Longfellow Elementary School in Portland, is seeking almost $2,000 to buy pens and filament that will allow her students to create three-dimensional art.

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  • yathink2011

    In 2015 the amount that Portland spent on assistance to asylum seekers may have been as much as 6 million dollars. Why don’t they give that money to the schools, and crowdfunding the assistance to asylum seekers? Maybe ask taxpayers what they would like to do.

  • David Craig

    Crowdfunding education; We used to call that taxes. It worked great for decades.