You wouldn’t expect a baker to make a cake without an oven or a pan, and yet, that’s often the kind of thing teachers are expected to do: Provide a rich learning environment without the right equipment. As a result, many teachers end up dipping into their own pockets to buy classroom materials. Here are two organizations working to give teachers— and kids—the tools for school success.
When third-grade teacher Alycia Zimmerman came up with the idea of growing a vegetable garden behind the public school where she teaches in Manhattan, she knew finding the funds for it within the school budget would be nearly impossible. So she turned to DonorsChoose.org, a national nonprofit that lets teachers post classroom project requests, and allows donors—who vary from individuals to companies—to choose ones they want to support. Within a matter of weeks, Zimmerman had her project funded. “We’ve now got five raised beds filled with organic vegetables, and gardening materials for the students to use—most of whom had never even eaten some of these vegetables,” she says.
DonorsChoose.org was started in 2000 after teacher Charles Best and some of his colleagues at Wings Academy in the Bronx were dealing with a lack of learning materials available to public school teachers. “A lot of us were paying for paper and pencils ourselves, but we didn’t have the money for the really good projects, like field trips or new books,” says Best. So, they created a website that lets teachers ask for the help they need: They post project requests on the site, detailing the needed resources, and donors then give as much money as they’d like toward the project (an average one costs around $500, and many are funded by multiple donors). Once fully funded, DonorsChoose.org buys the requested materials and ships them directly to the classrooms.
To date, DonorsChoose.org has funded more than 200,000 projects and raised nearly $85 million for classrooms nationwide. Learn how you can help at donorschoose.org.
It was while mentoring at a school for preschoolers with disabilities in Miami that corporate attorney James Rosenberg realized how few resources were available to teachers in the school. “Seeing how much of their own money they were using for supplies made me to want to create something that would make it easy for people like me to help teachers,” says Rosenberg. With the help of law school friend Max Holtzman, Rosenberg left his job in 1998 to start Adopt-A-Classroom, an online nonprofit designed to provide people around the country with an easy way to help teachers in their own communities.
Through Adopt-A-Classroom, an individual or organization selects a classroom to adopt, and then makes a contribution for the teacher to use on needed materials. Donors can search for particular classrooms, or Adopt-A-Classroom can partner them with an underserved classroom in the donor’s community. Donations can be made in any amount over $25, and more than one person can adopt the same classroom. The money’s then put into an online account where teachers can use the credit to buy materials, like books and calculators.
In the 13 years since the organization was founded, Rosenberg has seen roughly 60,000 classrooms adopted by citizens and local businesses. “We pride ourselves on the fact that there’s a real relationship that forms between the donor and the classroom,” says Rosenberg. See how your family can adopt a local classroom at adoptaclassroom.org.