Even though the holiday break is coming to an end, teachers still have some items on their wish lists.
Jennifer Gentzler and Lindsay Seebach are two of several Frederick County Public Schools teachers who have turned to crowdfunding resources to obtain tools for their classrooms. Gentzler and Seebach are both using a website called DonorsChoose.org to raise funds for materials to enhance their classrooms.
DonorsChoose is an online platform that allows anyone to donate to classroom projects in public schools. Teachers often request funding for projects to get Chromebooks, iPads, flexible seating or reading materials in their classrooms. Since being founded in 2000, the website has allowed more than $400 million to be donated to teachers for more than 750,000 projects, as of September 2016.
At least 15 FCPS teachers have ongoing projects. Seebach, who teaches fourth-grade special education at Hillcrest Elementary School, has successfully funded four DonorsChoose projects and raised more than $4,000 for her classroom in the last year.
She hopes to raise nearly $900 for reading materials. Many of Seebach’s students read below grade level, she said, and books she has selected will help students increase their fluency and comprehension.
Students would be able to read an instructional-level book for a few days and practice with repeated readings to increase fluency. Using timers Seebach has also requested funding for, students can then track their fluency progress, as well as play games such as “Beat the Clock.”
Seebach has also used DonorsChoose to raise funds for iPads and flexible seating methods.
“It’s a great website because it gives students opportunities that they otherwise might not get,” Seebach said. “The students are so excited when they got the iPads, and we use them all the time. It gives them the same opportunities that students get in a traditional classroom.”
Gentzler, a first-grade teacher at Ballenger Creek Elementary School, started using DonorsChoose.org in 2014, when she needed to get materials for her classroom library. She was looking for grants to apply for when she came across the website.
She has since funded seven projects on the site, and hopes to raise about $330 for classroom reading materials.
First grade is a crucial year for students to make progress with reading, and that requires hands-on activities to keep 6- and 7-year-old minds engaged in learning, Gentzler said.
“The materials in my current project will provide students with an engaging way to practice reading words,” Gentzler said. “Research has shown that physically building words is one of the best ways to learn. The materials in this project would allow students to build words interactively, building each word letter by letter.”
After a project is funded, the teachers and students often take pictures with the materials and send thank-you cards to donors. Seebach was particularly touched when she received a donation from the husband of an FCPS employee who died the previous year.
Seebach was friends with the employee and the donation was made in her honor.
“It really meant a lot to see that donation,” Seebach said.
With public schools often being underfunded, the need for more funding and resources has increased in recent years.
The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, which is charged with re-working the state’s current education funding formula among other policy recommendations, received the results of an adequacy study that said public schools have been underfunded by a total of $2.9 billion.
While the state is working to close that gap of unmet needs, teachers have started to turn to creative outlets to find money and resources for their classes.
DonorsChoose.org, Gentzler said, has filled a major void that allows teachers an opportunity to raise money for things they may not necessarily be able to afford themselves.
“As many people know, teachers spend a lot of their own money on their classrooms,” Gentzler said. “We are fortunate to have programs like [DonorsChoose.org], where complete strangers choose to donate to our projects. I have had donors fully fund an entire project, which is amazing. The kids are always amazed when they find out someone that they don’t know has donated materials to them simply out of kindness.”