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Teachers Seek New Classroom Funding Options

POSTED September 18, 2012 10:53 p.m.

When Sierra View Elementary School second grade teacher Linda Kraus finally decided that she needed a digital camera for her classroom, instead of always borrowing the school camera, she knew where to turn.

She had seen a presentation at the area teachers’ association center about DonorsChoose.org. She hadn’t heard of it before but found out it’s a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to funding classroom projects; it connects donors with public school teachers who need materials for their rooms.

Kraus took the initiative and was able to get her new classroom camera project called “Say Cheese!” fully funded. She signed up for the program, people donated money to her project online, and then the new camera was shipped to her at school.

Kraus is among 47 teachers in all of Stanislaus County who have raised money with the help of DonorsChoose.org and Horace Mann (a national sponsor of DonorsChoose.org) in the past 12 months. However, local Horace Mann agent Celeste Anderson said that not enough teachers in the area are taking advantage of the DonorsChoose.org offer.

“We’re trying to get more teachers into ‘the know’ of Donors Choose,” Anderson said. “The charity is working and it’s not being used very much by teachers here locally.”

She added that the average teacher spends $423 per year of their own money on their classroom.

“Public education is constantly being asked to do more with less,” Kraus added, noting how budget cuts have “hammered” the schools.

Kraus said that getting started with the Donors Choose program was really easy. She explained that the way the program works is that she went to the DonorsChoose.org “school mall,” she picked out the exact model of camera she wanted, then when the fundraising goal was met, it was shipped to her at the school.

Kraus uses digital photos for writing prompts, PowerPoint presentations, special class events, guest speakers, and parent communication. It brings technology and visual learning together for her students.

“I use photos to make (lessons) more interesting and to capture their attention,” she said. “…Photos are a big part of our curriculum.”

She also uses the classroom camera to provide photos for her students’ memory books at the end of the school year. Kraus said she does memory books because she’s a working mom and she understands how hard it can be for working parents to be involved in their children’s classrooms. Kraus and a volunteer assemble the memory books so the parents can be part of their kids’ school activities even though they’re at work. For example, she’ll take photos of each of her students with certain class projects, such as storyboards, so the parent can keep the photo but doesn’t have to keep a large student project.

Kraus reported that DonorsChoose.org is for full-time credentialed teachers, as well as school nurses, librarians, and guidance counselors. Teachers earn points for meeting criteria with their projects that need funding, and then as they accumulate more points, teachers can move onto getting larger projects funded.

“They want projects to be funded, so it’s best to start with something small,” Kraus said.

She also explained that at different times DonorsChoose.org does a matching program for funds, where the organization will partner with a company that matches donations. When Kraus was getting the word out about her Say Cheese camera project, the donations she received at Donors Choose ended up going beyond the amount she needed for the camera, so she needed another project so the extra funds wouldn’t expire.

Now, she’s working toward getting a new laptop computer for her classroom. That project is called “We’re Accelerating.” A new laptop will mean less wait time for her students when they take their Accelerated Reader tests or want to use online math or reading resources in the classroom.

Anderson noted that there are all types of projects for teachers to choose from. Some teachers, for example, get books for their classrooms funded and they are shipped to their school’s door.

There’s also no minimum on the amount of money a person can donate and people can donate from anywhere. Kraus said she didn’t even know some of her donors, some were anonymous, but they felt her project was worthy and wanted to support it.

Anderson added that people can go to the DonorsChoose.org website, click on areas, then on county, city, and school choice, and then donate to whatever touches their heart.

Once a project is funded, the charity wants the teachers to show how it’s benefitting their students and so that the donors can see the project was fully funded and that it’s making a difference.

“People want to give their money to schools but they want to know someone is responsible for where it’s going,” Anderson said.

Kraus said there’s also an option where donors can choose if they wish to have a thank you note sent from the students. Anderson added that when she donates, she also gets a thank you e-mail from DonorsChoose.org that same day.

Aside from Kraus’ project in Oakdale, one other teacher who is at Magnolia Elementary School is participating in the DonorsChoose.org program to fund books for her classroom.

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