Teachers on average spent about $500 of their own hard-earned cash on school supplies last year. One out of 10 forked over more than $1,000, according to a report from the Education Market Association.
With limited funding and resources, more teachers and schools are turning to websites like DonorsChoose.org for help with their classroom needs.
The not-for-profit organization has helped more than a million classroom projects receive funding since it was founded in 2000. Teachers at 77 percent of U.S. schools have requested assistance through the site, and community members and companies have donated more than $600 million to turn their proposals into reality, according to DonorsChoose.org.
"While there are some funds for us to use in our classroom, we don't have an abundant supply to come in and get things that we might need," said Elizabeth Selman, an art teacher at Hubbard Elementary in Monroe County. "As teachers, we don't make a ton of money. Finding ways to be able to help get our classroom going and get new resources is something that all teachers are faced with."
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Proposals must be approved by the organization, and then donors can make contributions of $1 or more online. Once funding goals are reached, DonorsChoose.org purchases the items the teachers have picked out and ships them directly to the schools. Contributions for some projects are matched by corporations.
Teachers can request funding for supplies through their school district, but DonorsChoose.org is another way to receive extra tools to enhance learning, said Sarah Chancellor, media specialist at Howard Middle School in Bibb County.
Chancellor recently posted a request for a Silhouette Cameo Die-Cut and Heat Press, which students could use to make posters, bulletin boards, school spirit products and more. She received about $7,000 in funding for DonorsChoose.org projects when she previously worked at Heritage Elementary. The school was able to get a poster printer, four smart TVs in the lunchroom for announcements, iPad kiosks for the media center, and an iPad, Lego wall, Lincoln Logs and Cricut cutting machine for a "makerspace" area in the media center, she said.
"There's just so much we want to do, but we just can't under our own money. (DonorsChoose.org) is a total game-changer. It's thousands of dollars you're saving," Chancellor said. "I think it gives awareness about what teachers are doing, what we need and what would help us."
Through the organization, Selman received clipboards for her first-grade class in August 2014 when she was teaching at Wells Elementary in Jones County. Now, she is trying to get enough donations for clay, fiber arts, drawing and sculpting supplies for Hubbard students. The items will be used to help create a "choice-based" art room, where students have options on what they create.
A few projects she posted on DonorsChoose.org didn't receive enough donations to be funded, so she was given gift cards in the amount raised to go toward her current project. The website is a great place for teachers to get ideas for future projects and helpful classroom tools, she said.
"The more people who know about it, the more teachers can get funded," Selman said. "There are a lot of teachers on there. It's a really awesome organization."
Many parents and stakeholders want to support their schools but don't know how, Chancellor said. DonorsChoose.org provides an easy way for them to help. In addition, Howard recently created a "Support the P.A.C.K." PayPal link on its website to simplify school giving. Items purchased through donations stay with the school, even if the teacher who submitted the proposal leaves.
The donations add up quickly when lots of people give a little, and it's neat to see people from outside Middle Georgia support DonorsChoose.org projects that interest them, Chancellor said. Selman said small businesses in Monroe County and random people have donated to her art supply project, and the website makes it easy for her to share her project with friends and family on social media.
"It's a great way for other people to be a part of helping teachers," Chancellor said. "We need all the help we can get."