With school budgets cut to the bone, teachers turn to crowdfunding for technology

Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on August 30, 2016.

Norton Middle School teacher Chris Cummings wants four new Chromebooks for his seventh-grade English classroom.

Margo Bridges is looking for a printer that will save her STEM students trips to an outdated – and often broken – machine down the hall.

And, Nourse Elementary School teacher Carol Clark needs a classroom rug for her 24 kindergartners.

In an ideal world, the classroom accessories would be covered by school budgets. But in light of budget cuts, many extras fall on teachers, themselves, who have to empty their pockets or find alternate funding to see their projects come to life.

But with the help of crowdfunding, the burden has become a little easier.

“There’s two levels when it comes to classroom materials,” Cummings said.

“You have your absolute necessities: books, paper, markers. That’s what the budget covers. And then you have your ‘in a perfect world’ – things that you could make do without, but make your experience better – projectors, Chromebooks and other technology.

“DonorsChoose became a great gateway for teachers to seek funding elsewhere,” he said. “It’s no longer ‘What I wish I had,’ but instead, ‘What I can find a way to get.'”

The three teachers have listed their projects on DonorsChoose, a site where teachers can seek classroom funding through community support.

There, they join about 20 other projects from Attleboro area teachers requesting calculators, mailboxes, headphones and more.

And so far, it seems to be working.

Eleven teachers from the Norton district have raised more than $12,000, funding 16 projects since last year.

And after hearing about DonorsChoose from other teachers, Jess Holicker, a middle school learning specialist, posted her first project last month: two iPads totaling $1,075. In just 10 days, the project was funded.

Last year, Holicker found her own iPad useful in engaging her students, many of whom have learning disabilities. With the help of technology, they became motivated to focus on audio books, flash cards, math applications and more.

“Some people view technology as just an extra amenity,” she said. “But it opens so many new opportunities and lets kids have individual experiences that will help them in the long run.”

The process was fairly simple: post a project, have it vetted by DonorsChoose and ask around for support. Being her first project, Holicker was eligible for a match program where every donation was doubled by the company.

DonorsChoose also partners with other companies looking to give back.

Cummings, who successfully funded three other projects, said a match drive by the Gates Foundation helped him quickly raise $1,200 for his first three Chromebooks. He’s also received donations from Staples and Cards Against Humanity.

Kim Zajac, a speech language pathologist at the middle school, said projects through DonorsChoose allowed her to explore options for her students that weren’t always accessible to her as a school specialist.

“Budgetary limitations are very real,” she said. “But students have different learning styles and benefit from having different options to access curriculum.”

For her, these became Chromebooks, virtual reality Google Cardboard goggles, Hokki stools and board games.

“Having these alternative options allows my students to reach their highest successes,” she said.

And, sometimes, donations for the materials come from families of students who see the importance, themselves.

Meghan Kass decided to donate to Cumming’s campaign for a new projector after hearing how much her daughter Courtney, who was new to the district, appreciated the use of technology in his classroom last year.

“I got a lot of really great feedback from my daughter and I could tell his heart and soul was in teaching,” she said. “It’s obvious he truly enjoys and adores his students. So many teachers use their own money, and I don’t think we should expect them to do that.

“If we want our children to succeed, we need to support our teachers and make sure they have the appropriate materials to support our students in this day and age.”

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