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Find Your Benefactor

If Santa overlooked your class's Christmas list, it might be time to request a special delivery from an online resource. iLoveSchools.com puts teachers in touch with supporters with materials and supplies to donate. Don't wait until next December to ask for a care package from a benevolent friend. Included: Online resources that help school supporters locate "adoptive" classrooms.

Although politicians assure taxpayers that every New York City school is well equipped with books and supplies, Tammie Richter's special education classroom lacks basic materials, and the school's limited budget does little to improve the situation.

"Our school was given a $500 budget to purchase textbooks this year," Richter told Education World. "I have no math books and no reading books; the chapter books I have are not in good shape -- they're missing pages and falling apart -- and there are not enough of them to go around. I don't have enough books on grade level to serve those students who cannot function at the level they are supposed to be in."

Richter discovered the Web site iLoveSchools.com while browsing the Internet in search of resources for underserved schools like her own PS 36 in Brooklyn, New York.

"I spend more than $1,000 a year out of my own pocket to purchase supplies, many of which I'm supposed to have for my classroom," she said. "I was desperate to find outside resources to help me help my students."

Requesting anything a donor might have to offer, Richter registered with the site. The class's needs are great -- desks, pens, pencils, staples, paper, computers, and more. To Richter, even a single roll of tape would have been a blessing.

"An extremely generous donor gave us a large box of books," recalled Richter. "Not only did she mail them to us; she paid for the postage! The kids were so grateful. These were books they actually could read. One of the books was a teacher's workbook that helped me prepare some lessons on weather. We were so thankful to add those new books to our collection."

HELP A TEACHER, REACH A CLASSROOM

Seeking Supplies?
With so many classrooms in need of help, online "donor locator" services are becoming more and more popular with schools. The services make materials and funds available to teachers in a variety of ways.

Kids in Need operates "free stores" across the country in which teachers can obtain outdated product, excess inventory, slightly damaged merchandise, and more from contributing organizations.

Through Adopt-A-Classroom, donors offer $500.00 mini-grants to under-served classrooms. If they choose, donors can designate a particular teacher and class to receive the grant, or allow the organization to select a recipient for them. The designated teacher receives a merchandise credit, and the donor receives an itemized list of materials purchased. The class and donor stay in communication throughout the school year.

With DonorsChoose, teachers submit proposals for resources they would like to have for their classrooms, and donors select specific proposals to fund. The materials are purchased and supplied to the class through DonorsChoose, so no money is given directly to the classroom. This program currently operates in the areas of New York City, Chicago, North Carolina, and San Francisco Bay, and expansion is planned.

Richter's story is not unique to Jerry Hall, the founder of iLoveSchools.com. The site serves as an online link between community resources and teachers, and the message it conveys to potential donors is "Help a Teacher, Reach a Classroom."

"The average teacher currently registered on the iLoveSchools.com site spends $660.00 from his or her own pocket to purchase needed equipment, materials, and supplies," Hall reported. Most of the teachers who register are frustrated to some degree about inadequate equipment, materials, and supplies for their classrooms.

Hall started iLoveSchools.com to fulfill a promise he made as a child to return and help schools. He wasn't sure how he would follow through with his plan, but he was motivated to make the commitment.

"I had my own personal frustrations at home and in school, and I think I was expecting more from my schools than they were able to provide," recalled Hall. "I saw a New York City Web site that was serving local schools, and I thought that model could be developed to help teachers nationwide. By 2003, I had saved enough money to develop and launch iLoveSchools.com."

The corporation founded by Hall is a nonprofit that directs all donations designated for teachers to teachers. The money used to develop the Web site was provided by Hall's Web design company, eWebLab.com, and a few private donors. Private donors also have provided funds that support administrative costs of the site.

ILoveSchools.com allows teachers to register specific needs in an online forum. When a donor visits the site and has an item to offer, he or she selects a teacher who is in need of that item. Then the donor sends an e-mail message to the teacher. Because the message is automatically forwarded to the teacher through the site, the teacher's e-mail address remains secure until he or she replies to the donor and makes arrangements for delivery of the materials.

WANTS, NEEDS, AND BARE NECESSITIES

When Dr. Jane Bick of Georgia donated $70.00 in supplies to a Title 1 inner city Atlanta school, she bought things like paper towels, soap, colored pencils, markers, file folders, rubber cement, and facial tissues. The act of kindness overwhelmed the class's 22-year-old teacher.

"Most of her students live with grandparents, aunts, uncles, guardians or others," said Bick. "Many students' fathers are in jail; some students' moms are on drugs. Some parents simply have relinquished custody to grandparents or great-grandparents."

When the teacher arrived at school in the fall, she was told she could order classroom supplies in the amount of $150, and she submitted her list. She received only a handful of items and few that she had requested.

"The school has no soap, no toilet paper in the bathrooms, no markers for boards, and no pencils or papers for students," Bick explained. "The only items supplied are textbooks. There weren't any fun books to read, so the teacher went to yard sales and the Salvation Army and begged librarian friends to give her old children's books instead of throwing them away."

The Atlanta teacher had spent a few thousand dollars of her own salary on school supplies for her 18 students. "She loves her kids," added Bick. "When she saw the Costco package with rolls of paper towels, her eyes filled up. You would have thought I'd brought her gold."

Not every teacher who uses iLoveSchools.com seeks the most essential classroom items. As Lorena Soto-Puckett, a kindergarten teacher from Long Beach, California, explains, "To better the quality of my teaching, I have bought things that are not necessarily essential for academic learning (such as books and manipulatives), but that are essential to help the classroom run more smoothly and help students stay focused on the learning that needs to occur (such as cubbies and supply boxes). It takes more than books to teach and learn."

Soto-Puckett requested 20 "seat sacks" for the backs of the students' chairs at International Elementary. A benefactor provided 30, and they have proven to be an excellent organizational tool. She still is hoping to receive hands-on science and math learning centers.

"My students keep their reading book bags and poem folders in the seat sacks," she explained. "Kindergarten students do not have individual desks, so they have cubbies, separate from their seating area where they store their supplies. Often, students would stop and talk with other students on their way to get their reading book bags. The seat sacks allow them to just turn around in their seats, pull out the bag, and get started on their reading -- thus cutting back on reading time lost due to dilly-dallying."

Because the kindergartners' first request was fulfilled during the holiday season, they were introduced to the concept of giving at an especially appropriate time. Soto-Puckett used the gift to illustrate the importance of charity and related it to the class's own annual canned food drive.

FRIENDS HELPING FRIENDS

In addition to direct donations to specific educators, iLoveSchools.com enables donors to register their interest in helping a teacher from a school not yet registered. A new program called "Classroom Friend" permits any group of school supporters to join together, set goals, and raise equipment and supplies for schools of their choice.

"Our goal is to help like-minded individuals, be they from the local PTA, concerned parents, church or civic groups, or students, the ability to communicate their teachers' needs to people within their circle of influence," Hall explained. "We do not want to replace any of the great work those groups are currently doing, we simply want to provide a communication vehicle between people who want to help teachers and teachers who are asking for help."

Books and learning materials, computer equipment, and software top the list of items teachers most need. Many donors give teachers funds to purchase those materials; others provide the requested items. When Florida was ravaged by hurricanes in 2004, a number of the state's teachers posted requests for materials through iLoveSchools.com, and donors responded generously.

"Most teachers registered on our site have not yet received a donation," Hall stated. "We believe there is a crisis going on right here in America. The crisis is our school teachers are so compelled to teach their children with effective equipment, supplies and materials that they are digging into their own pockets, using after-tax dollars, to purchase those items to teach someone else's kids."

To register your classroom or learn more about iLoveSchools and its classroom donation programs, visit the iLoveSchools.com Web site.

 

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

01/24/2005

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