MILLEDGEVILLE – Chelsey Wheeler walked into a classroom with very few supplies.
The room had desks and chairs and microscopes, and the previous teacher left behind some posters and supplemental books. But she had little else.
The Milledgeville School District doesn’t have much of a budget for markers, scissors and construction paper. Wheeler, a first-year teacher, who hasn’t accumulated her own stock of learning tools and supplies, doesn’t either.
She could have asked her students and their families to add the items to the school supply list, but not everyone can afford them. She could have dipped into her pocket (and has) to buy the items, but she can’t afford enough for the whole class.
Wheeler turned to DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that connects donors with teachers, classrooms and schools in need of materials.
Three Sauk Valley-area teachers have projects posted on the website, and many others, new and tenured alike, previously have posted projects and some have had them funded. Teachers in Lee County have had 13 projects funded since 2008, while teachers in Whiteside County have had 16 projects funded since 2007.
Here’s how it works: Public school teachers all over the United States post project requests, such as books, art supplies and science equipment. Prospective donors then may browse requests by category or location and give money to those projects they deem worthy.
Once a project reaches its funding goal, the charity orders the materials and delivers them to the school. The teacher, and in some cases, the students, write thank-you notes to donors.
Wheeler is requesting colored pencils, markers, scissors, construction paper and a paper cutter for a variety of projects her students will put into their interactive biology portfolios – supplies that cost about $450.
“I care about each and every one of my students and know that, with these supplies, I will be able to reach out to my diverse learners and help each one succeed,” she wrote on her project page. “I have big dreams for my classroom becoming a place where students learn to love and explore the world around them, but this can (only) become a reality when students have the supplies they need.”
DonorsChoose.org gives local teachers a way to tap into outside resources to obtain basic supplies, specialty items and everything in between.
“The benefit for us as teachers is to potentially get our hands on a variety of resources we might not necessarily have,” said Jim Geer, a fifth-grade teacher at East Coloma School in Rock Falls, who has received a document camera, among other things, through the charity. “This gives us at least a fighting chance to get the supplies we need.”
The online charity also helps teachers, many of whom teach in low-income, rural districts with shrinking budgets, reserve limited district funds for the necessities, such as textbooks and desks.
“The district is great and is a way for us to get the basics, but I wanted to go and see what outside resources were available, so the district wouldn’t have to spend that money that could be used for textbooks on other things,” said Liz Krafft, a fourth-grade teacher at Merrill School in Rock Falls, who is asking for art supplies.
DonorsChoose.org helps teachers form relationships with people who care about local education.
Krafft, who this past summer acquired more than a dozen books for a unit on ancient Egypt, got in touch with a graduate student in Egyptology at Johns Hopkins University; someone donated to the project in honor of the woman and her husband and their wedding that summer, and she and Krafft interacted online.
“I’m so glad your students get to enjoy Egypt,” the woman wrote on the project page. “... (if) you need anything, or want me to Skype with your students or something, please let me know!”
“My students absolutely love learning about Egypt; it’s one of their favorite topics,” Krafft replied. “I will definitely keep you in mind when school starts back up and we begin our ancient Egypt unit. I’m sure they would love to ask you questions!”
Three local teachers have projects posted at DonorsChoose.org.
Liz Krafft (formerly Rosenberry) , a fourth-grade teacher at Merrill School in Rock Falls, is requesting art supplies. Her project, which has not yet received any donations, expires Dec. 23. Her project can be viewed at www.donorschoose.org/project/looking-is-a-gift-but-seeing-is-power/825115/.
Tara LaFollette , an agriculture education teacher at Milledgeville High School, is requesting dry-erase paper and chairs. Her project, which has received $30 in donations so far, expires Jan 19. Her project can be viewed at www.donorschoose.org/project/no-seat-no-learning/841554/.
Chelsey Wheeler , a biology teacher at Milledgeville High School, is requesting colored pencils, markers, scissors, construction paper and a paper cutter. Her project, which has not yet received any donations, expires March 29. Her project can be viewed at www.donorschoose.org/project/what-do-we-want-school-supplies/909407/.