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'Adopted' Classes Thrive with Personal, Financial Support

When Miami lawyer Jamie Rosenberg volunteered in a local school, he was shocked by the school's limited resources and wanted to do something to help the classroom teachers. So, in 1998, Rosenberg left his law practice and founded Adopt-A-Classroom, an organization that asks individuals and businesses to contribute $500, so a teacher can buy classroom supplies. Included: Information about how Adopt-A-Classroom works and about how to become a sponsor.

Adopt-A-Classroom

The Florida-based Adopt-A-Classroom program supports itself with fundraisers, grants, and private, unrestricted donations. Discounts negotiated with school supply companies also help offset some of the administrative expenses. More financial support, however, is key to expanding the program to schools throughout the country, according to founder and executive director Jamie Rosenberg. Rosenberg and his staff, which includes one other full-time person and two part-time workers, are doing their best to get the word out. "Our main goal is to find funders for national expansion," he said.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the program or to become a sponsor can write Adopt-A-Classroom at 1521 Alton Road, No. 78, Miami, FL, 33139, phone them at (305) 674-4470, or email [email protected]

Seven years ago, while mentoring a pre-school student, Florida attorney Jamie Rosenberg was disturbed by the lack of resources he saw in Miami classrooms. He was further stunned when he realized that it was easier for businesses and individuals to help maintain stretches of highway than it was for them to support public schools.

If people could donate money to Adopt A Highway programs, which use sponsors' money to clean up roadsides, then why couldn't they sponsor classrooms as well? Rosenberg wondered. So in 1998, he made that possible when he founded Adopt-A-Classroom, a program that seeks patrons for Florida classrooms. Adopt-A-Classroom has been so successful that Rosenberg hoped to expand the program nationwide.

"We see a lot of emphasis on systematic reform, but not enough on direct, immediate assistance to teachers," Rosenberg told Education World.

ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES, BUT NOT RESOURCES

Adopt-A-Classroom matches classes with donors, who provide $500 for classroom supplies. Teachers spend the money on items they order from a school supply catalog provided by Adopt-A-Classroom.

About 400 classrooms in elementary schools in Florida and New York City had been adopted by 2001, Rosenberg said, and teachers hoping to be adopted continue to sign up on the Web site. "The Web site is the first step to nationwide expansion," Rosenberg added. The second step is more financial support.

Sponsors are about evenly divided among individuals, corporations, and small businesses. The Florida Marlins baseball team, for example, adopted 56 classes and the team's vice chairman adopted ten more.

Rosenberg chose $500 as the sponsorship amount in part because it's a manageable sum for many businesses and individuals and because it's close to the $408 a year the National Education Association (NEA) says teachers spend of their own money on their classes. (That adds up to about $1.5 billion a year spent on classroom supplies by teachers nationwide.) Teachers also were asked if $500 for supplies would make a difference in their classrooms. Most said yes, according to Rosenberg.

"Teachers are asked to be more accountable, they have more responsibility, and yet they get no more resources," he said. "Imagine if all our doctors were put in inadequate operating rooms and asked to perform surgery?"

The Adopt-A-Classroom program also builds ongoing relationships between sponsors and classes. More than 90 percent of sponsors adopt the same class year after year, Rosenberg said. The "adopting" person or organization receives a certificate of adoption, a thank-you letter from the class, a list of items purchased with the money, and updates about classroom activities, so communication can continue. Often sponsors visit their adopted classes to talk with students and see how the purchased items are being used.

"One of the main frustrations in trying to help schools is accountability," said Rosenberg. "This way, donors can see for themselves how the money was spent."

Even professional athletes make time to visit their adopted classes. Florida Marlins' relief pitcher Ricky Bones, who in 2000 adopted Michele Ross' fourth grade class at Fienberg Fisher Elementary School in Miami Beach, was welcomed eagerly by students. "He spent quite a long time here, answering questions and talking about the importance of school," Ross told Education World. Bones also gave the students tickets to a Marlins' game.

Ross' purchases included math manipulatives and construction kits that students could use for group projects. "These supplies enrich and support our program," she said. "They provide a much higher level of education, a more total education."

FROM THE BASICS TO WISH LISTS

Several teachers whose classes have been adopted say they used the money for everything from basic supplies to manipulatives and educational games.

"Jamie is god here," said Leonor Belaval, assistant principal of Fienberg Fisher Elementary School, where 28 classes have been adopted. "Teachers are able to purchase a lot of materials not included in the budget."

Belaval also thinks the additional supplies and resources have helped the school's overall performance. Schools in Florida are ranked A, B, or C, based on standardized test scores. ("A" schools are those with the highest scores.) In 1997-1998, Fienberg Fisher was a "C" school; after a year in the Adopt-A-Classroom program, student test scores improved enough for it to earn an "A" rating. "I think it made a difference," Belaval said of the Adopt-A-Classroom effort.

Kali Mogul, communications manager for Fox SportsNet-Florida, said she was the company representative to two adoptive classes last year, and she enjoyed seeing how the classes were able to use the money.

"Everyone knows that teachers don't have the money they need," Mogul told Education World. "Just seeing how the kids benefited from the supplies was huge for us. Such a small amount of money helps out so much." SportsNet also has broadcast public service announcements for the program free of charge.

One of the classes adopted by Fox SportsNet last year was Gloria Rodriguez' special education class at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Broward County, Florida. Rodriguez was able to buy scooters, large playground balls, and Lego kits to help physically challenged students improve their coordination. She also beefed up her supply of construction paper and stickers.

"It's great," Rodriguez told Education World, adding that her class has been adopted again this year. "I get an opportunity to buy things I otherwise might not be able to buy. I would have had to spend my own money."

In 2000, Mogul visited Rodriguez's class and the company's other adopted class, Eldit Morgan's second grade at Village Elementary School in Sunrise, Florida. Mogul met the students in both classes and toured Village School. Morgan said her purchases included interactive games and storage racks. "We derived great benefit from it," Morgan said of the money donated.

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

The Marlins view the Adopt-A-Classroom program as a way to implement their community outreach program Cornerstones for Kids, said Angela Smith, the team's community outreach coordinator. "It's a way to stay linked to the kids and what they are doing. It reminds you what you are working for -- they are the future of our country," Smith told Education World.

Smith said she enjoyed visiting her adopted class at Fienberg Fisher Elementary, Vicky Johnson's fourth grade. Johnson used the donation to purchase a U.S. map, as well as markers, scissors, and transparencies. "Donors don't always see with their own eyes where the money goes," Smith said. "This program definitely allows for that."

The community support also is a much-needed morale booster for teachers and students. "We're constantly struggling and shopping for bargains," said Ross. "I've been teaching for so long -- and it's so nice to know that someone cares. The children know they care, too."