I'm going to tell you something about education and you won't be a bit surprised: We're underfunded. The lack of resources that teachers have to deal with should be enough to make the even the toughest, most cynical, pessimistically gruff person blush with embarrassment.
When I look around the professional offices of some of my friends, I wonder why their printers and computers and fax machines are standard for the level of work they do and why they're still considered a luxurious expense for the classroom teacher.
When computers became a standard in many classrooms over a decade ago, I wondered how I could get my hands on several desktop computers for my students to use for word processing projects. Shame on me for thinking so small about the state of technology and its impact on student achievement and success.
There is no shortage of cash-starved schools across the United States. When I think of the poverty issues related to schools and how federal dollars are used, I am grateful for every single penny that goes to them. However, I’m conflicted about how those dollars are bringing some basic educational needs to neglected areas. Often, I think of the "90/90/90 Schools" where 90% of the student population receives free or reduced lunch, 90% of the students are from an ethnic minority, and 90% of them have met high standards on academic achievement assessments. These high-achieving students are, according to the norm, receiving enough funds to bring the basics of the classroom up to par with wealthier school districts, where swimming pools and lacrosse teams are the norm. Now I'm going to tell you something else that will most certainly not put you in a state of bewilderment: This is unfair.
There is some good news, though. It comes in the form of teachers who get classroom projects funded through DonorsChoose. Many of these teachers have tried to get financial help from their local school districts, but the things they ask for are out of the budget. DonorsChoose allows teachers to make wish lists that can be fulfilled by private individuals or corporations.
This year, the organization celebrates its 10th anniversary. It began as a teacher conversation in Brooklyn. Charles Best and other educators were hypothesizing what would happen if they could create wish lists that could get funded by the public to help public school students.
What's the risk in helping teachers get everything they need to make a classroom project come alive for a student? What would happen if teachers couldn't find enough copies of Alice Walker's The Color Purple for their high school students? We should be so lucky to have an overabundance of literate, creative kids.
Not long ago, I logged onto DonorsChoose through the encouragement of a friend who gave me $200 DonorsChoose dollars to give to the project of my choosing. During my search, I found a classroom teacher, Mr. Curry, who I met years ago while completing an internship on my quest to become a school principal.
Mr. Curry's K-2 cross-categorical students were in desperate need of some basic technology that would aid their learning in a real, hands-on manner. When I linked to him through my blog and Twitter and Facebook accounts, his project was fully funded within 24 hours.
I've never thought of myself as a philanthropist, but being connected through DonorsChoose and Limeades for Learning helped me become just that. I would estimate that on my own I have given more than $10,000 to the cause of education with backpacks, tennis shoes, and colored pencils for my students. That paled in comparison to what I felt happened in a classroom that was not my own nor in a school where I work. The sense of community I felt in helping Mr. Curry acquire a few iPods for his students was overwhelming, and it motivated me to continue to help him.
As of this writing, Mr. Curry has expanded his wish list to include four iPads for his students to practice arithmetic and play games that would help them learn phonics. My hope is that I can give more and raise awareness of this amazing program that makes the wishes of these teachers come true.
You know that old adage about it being far better to give than to receive? Ask Hilda Yao how she feels about that. In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle that details Yao's giving $1.3 million to all the teachers in California with wish lists on the Donors Choose site, Yao says that she felt "happier than even some of the teachers." I'm not a betting woman, but after my experience with Mr. Curry's class project, I'm not the least bit surprised.
Happy Anniversary, DonorsChoose. Thank you for the contributions you've made and thank you to the individuals who have donated money to help fund these wishlists.
But there's much, much more to do. Surf the projects, find one you'd like to support. Donate your own money, ask your family and friends and social network to help you fund the project. It feels good to make a difference.
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