FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — In classrooms throughout Petree Elementary School, shiny, new books are stacked up on desks and in cabinets, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Jessica Flowers, a fourth-grade teacher, has entire classroom sets of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Indian in the Cupboard.” Cailyn Beck has enough copies of “Runaway Ralph” for each of her second-grade students and is waiting on a class set of “The Tale of Despereaux” to arrive. It should be any day now.
Danielle Anderson has 22 copies each of three Jerry Spinelli books, a favorite with her fifth-graders.
“They don’t have a bend in them,” Anderson said, running a hand admiringly over their glossy covers.
New books are a big deal, especially in such low-income schools as Petree. Limited resources — coupled with years of state budget cuts to money for textbooks — mean that a new anything is hard to come by, especially in quantities for an entire class.
That’s why Principal Essie McKoy is encouraging her teachers to turn to the website, Donors Choose.
Similar to the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter but designed specifically for teachers, Donors Choose allows teachers to post financing requests for projects or classroom materials. The site allows teachers to “shop” at online sites and make requests for the items their classrooms need. The cost is tallied and posted on the Donors Choose website, where teachers can post photos and descriptions of their projects. Individual donors then can donate money to cover all or part of a project. Once the project is fully financed, the supplies are shipped straight to the school.
“People really want to see where their dollars are going, so we created the most transparent process possible,” said Chris Pearsall, spokesperson for Donors Choose.
“If (a donor) is funding a laptop or a set of microscopes, they want to know that’s exactly how their dollars are going to be used. That’s why we send (the materials). You have the excitement of knowing how your donation has helped students, and also your dollars are spent exactly as you intended.”
It’s a pretty easy process, says pre-kindergarten teacher Nartasha Kimbrough, who has been using Donors Choose since 2010. Most recently, she received new beanbags chairs, which are favored by her autistic students who respond well to sensory stimuli. She also has a classroom iPad financed through Donors Choose, and recently received diapers, wipes and snacks. Kimbrough said that many of the parents of her students have a hard time keeping their homes supplied, let alone having to send some to school, too.
“It takes the burden off of them,” Kimbrough said. “And I’m spending less out of my own pocket.”
Nine of McKoy’s teachers have had projects financed through the website, while about a dozen more Petree projects are currently on the website. While teachers can request just about anything they need for their rooms, McKoy says the majority of her teachers are requesting books and other reading materials. Reading is the primary focus at Petree this school year.
“If you ask anyone what Ms. McKoy’s three favorite words are, they’ll tell you, ‘read, read, read,’” she said.
Having classroom sets of engaging books is crucial to getting students hooked on reading, Beck said. While she waits for the class set of “The Tale of Despereaux” to arrive, she puts the book under a document camera connected to a projector that displays the text on the wall. The entire class reads together, but the students don’t actually get to hold a book in their hands.
Petree isn’t the only local school using the website. Lauren Higgins at Sedge Garden Elementary School is requesting $700 worth of cereal, pudding and other snacks to help hungry students’ ability to concentrate. Carly Kaczmarek at Middle Fork Elementary School needs $170 more toward her request of such organizational supplies as binders and pencil cases. Andrew Allison has requested an iPad mini to help supplement technology in his East Forsyth High School classroom for students who don’t have their own mobile devices.
Nearly half a million projects have been financed and more than $265 million raised since Donors Choose started in 2000. For more information or to help finance a project, visit DonorsChoose.org. Projects can searched by subject or location.