Use DonorsChoose to Support Your Local Schools

by Kevin on August 13, 2009

This post is dedicated to my amazing wife. She’s a music teacher at two Title I schools. This post is a bit long, but I hope you read it in its entirety.

In any American city there are different “sides” of town that spill across the landscape. Some are fantastic, expensive places to live while others are well within the poverty zone.

In Birmingham we have Mountain Brook, one of the most affluent areas in the nation. The median family income in Mountain Brook is over $150,000. The houses are grand, luxurious, and… expensive. No one lives below the poverty line in Mountain Brook.

And then we have places like Pinson where the median family income is $48,000 and 10% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Other places like Fairfield are in worse shape — the median family income is $38,000 and 22% of the population lives below the poverty line (including 28% of those under age 18).

My wife is an elementary music teacher in a community similar to Pinson. It isn’t the best area. Both of her schools (yes, she has two) are Title I schools and many students are on free or reduced lunches. (Being a Title I schools means that at least 40% of your students are low-income according to the US Census.)

I truly believe she is making a lasting impact in the lives of these students — even if that impact won’t be seen until the end of the year… or twenty years from now. (I may be a bit biased. We met in high school choir.)

Educators Need Our Support

It is no secret that primary education is suffering in many American communities. Tax revenues are down across the nation as America plows through our first major recession in my lifetime. Lower tax revenue means even education funding — already low — is down.

For example the city of Birmingham has closed many schools due to dropping enrollment and pushed these students into other districts and schools. It’s a sad situation and no one is quite sure how many more schools will be closed. No one knows how many more students will need to be bussed to other areas.

The school my wife teaches in is at least fifty years old. Her classroom is thankfully quite large, but lacks central heating and air. She has window units to provide minimal cooling during the hot and humid times of the year. The units are very old and loud — she is forced to decide between having class where the students can hear her, or having a cool, loud classroom.

When she first got the job I helped her clean and set up her new room. Her new space. Full of potential. It was a bit dusty and dirty, but nothing that a little bit of cleaning couldn’t take care of.

We discovered two large closets full of a random assortment of instruments. These instruments ranged in age from a few years old to likely twenty years old. Some of them were in okay condition while others, even while looking new, had not been cared for and were practically worthless.

The state thankfully provides some money each year to every teacher to outfit their rooms and buy new learning supplies. This year it is around $400. That sounds like a ton of money, but you would be really surprised at how quickly it goes in my wife’s classroom. One new set of a specific instrument can be $200 to $1,000! When you are trying to rebuild the entire inventory of instruments… well, it will be several years before she has an adequate supply of instruments in good condition. Let’s You Support Classrooms in Need

There is an amazing website that connects teachers in needy areas with donations for those classrooms:

How it works, from the DonorsChoose website:

Here’s how it works: public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit, to violins for a school recital, to microscope slides for a biology class.

Then, you can browse project requests and give any amount to the one that makes your eye twinkle. Once a project reaches its funding goal, we deliver the materials to the school.

You’ll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you’ll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students.

I think it is a genius idea. It reminds me of Kiva, the microfinance website that coordinates the lending of money to potential business owners in third world countries. Both sites connect a genuine need with donors.

It’s a non-profit organization and they collect the funds directly, order the materials, and ship them directly to the school to prevent someone from scamming potential donors. (The school Principal is alerted to expect a package, too, so you can’t get something and sell it off for profit.)

Support My Wife’s Classroom: Help Buy Tubano Drums

Drums are a fascinating instrument to children. My wife loves to use drum circle activities with her students. A drum circle activity is often a musical “conversation” between a leader (the teacher) and a student or group of students. For example my wife may ask a “question” on the the drum and her students will improvise an “answer” back to her.

Unfortunately her current drum set is limited to half of a set of small hand drums. While these drums are certainly usable they have to be shared (which leaves half of a class of anxious elementary students looking on). Many lessons require a larger drum called the tubano that provides a much richer sound.

That having been said she has put up a request on DonorsChoose for two tubano drums. The drums will cost $377 including shipping. With a state budget of $400 she can’t afford to buy these drums or else she wouldn’t be able to do anything else the entire year! These drums would enrich the experience of her students while also allowing more students to be involved in each activity.

I’m blogging about this today because I love music, I love my wife, and her classroom is in definite need of help. I’m asking you to consider donating to a school, any school, on DonorsChoose today. There are so many teachers doing hard, underpaid work in our country. My wife is just one of them. Of course if you supported her classroom we would be extraordinarily grateful.

I’m also looking for other ideas on how to support our needy classrooms across the country. Leave a comment and start the discussion!

UPDATE: Generous personal finance blogger Steve Rhode of just donated the final $225 for the project! We are stunned! It only took 4 donations to knock out the needed $377. My wife wasn’t expecting to get these drums — if at all — until the spring. She is so excited! Thanks everyone — now go find a school local to you and help them out, too!

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August 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm
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K.S. Katz August 13, 2009 at 7:00 am

Kevin, I put in a donation at DonorsChoose. Hope this helps the kids, and tell your wife that I think she’s doing a wonderful thing.

P.S. – I love music too!

Kevin August 13, 2009 at 7:21 am

Thank you so much!
Since yesterday we’ve had two donations that total $127! We’re only $225 away! Totally surprised!

Frugal Dad August 13, 2009 at 7:28 am

Awesome idea! I had heard of Donors Choose, but never visited until prompted by your post. It’s a great concept, and something I’ll be participating in from now on (both in my own school district and around the country where there is serious need). Can’t wait to hear about the kids playing those drums!

Chrissy August 13, 2009 at 11:19 am

Thank you for posting about! I am a school teacher in an urban area and maintain a challenge page for my school. We have had over $8,000 worth of projects donated to our school in the last two school years! It is amazing and the children get so excited when they get to work with new materials and resources! They also love writing the thank you notes!
Thank you for getting the word out about this great organization!

Leann August 13, 2009 at 5:00 pm

This is Kevin’s wife and I just want to say I am totally blown away by the kindness and generosity that you all have shown. I am so excited that my project was funded that quickly, and I encourage everyone to look for a deserving school that you can help out. Thank you!

lauren August 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm

This post made my blood run cold – there are some wonderful people in the world! Looking forward to hearing how well the drums go down in the class room. I’m Australian (and I live in Australia) so I’m going to look for something similar over here. This story is really inspiring and it’s great to know that even in the struggle to be frugal and save money, people can be so generous.

MoneyEnergy August 13, 2009 at 10:59 pm

That’s really amazing, this should start off a new trend. Glad to hear about it. In the past I’ve donated through a similar process where you can “choose” what items you’d like to contribute towards, and it shows you how much more they need on each to meet their goal. It’s a great way to personalize and make the process more transparent. I can’t wait to be able to give back some more at some point!

Paula August 14, 2009 at 7:50 am

Kevin, some corporations have matching funds for donations. Mine in particular supports Donors Choose, up to $500 per employee per year. I’d like to encourage your readers who are interested in supporting Donors Choose to check with their employer to see if they offer matching contributions. This is a great idea and I’m sure will be much appreciated by teachers everywhere.

My mother is a retired teacher and I can remember helping her to clean her room, make displays and materials (she didn’t have much extra money to buy supplies, so we made things) and set up the classroom for incoming students. I was a substitute teacher for a couple of years, my sister and her husband teach. Teachers are some of the hardest working people out there and I applaud your efforts to support the teaching community.

Glenn August 14, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Had never heard of this site. Glad your wife had her project funded. I made a donation to a need in my area. Thanks for bringing the site to my attention.

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