With a Wish and a Click, Web Site Helps Supply Schools

By Megan King
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008

To review nouns with her students, Amanda King, a 10th-grade English teacher at Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, purchased yellow highlighters so her students could mark the words in sentences.

"You have to do whatever you can to get your kids to learn," King said.

She said she hopes by the time she is ready to teach other parts of speech, her students will have highlighters in different colors, courtesy of online donations from friends and strangers.

King is among 11 Prince George's County teachers who have wish lists for supplies, books and field trips on the Web site DonorsChoose.org, a New York-based nonprofit organization that allows people to donate to schools directly.

DonorsChoose.org was founded in 2000 by Charles Best, a social studies teacher in New York. The organization has facilitated $23.9 million in donations to students nationwide, mainly in low-income communities, according to its Web site.

The site requires teachers to submit proposals for items they need. Once proposals are verified, they are posted for donations. There is no limit on how much funding a teacher can request, but the site advises that requests under $400 are more likely to be fulfilled. Once enough money is donated, DonorsChoose.org purchases the materials and ships them to the school. Teachers are required to photograph students using the items, and the photos are sent to donors, along with thank-you letters.

King requested $540 for composition notebooks and highlighters in different colors for her students, five classes with about 35 students in each. She needs $376 for the materials and the rest for shipping, taxes, payment processing and labor costs. Labor costs, or "fulfillment fees," are from 15 to 25 percent, depending on the requesting school's poverty level.

King learned about DonorsChoose.org from colleagues in the District, who said they had good experiences with the site.

In her request, King wrote about the difficult circumstances faced by many of her students and how hard they are working, especially in preparation for the statewide standardized High School Assessment tests that are required for graduation.

"My students should be able to take the HSA with comfort and the peace of mind that comes with feeling prepared," she wrote.

Prince George's public schools officials said teachers are allowed to accept donations for classes as long as they follow school board policy, which states that donations must further the schools' educational work.

Board of Education Chairman Verjeana M. Jacobs (At Large) said teachers should have the supplies they need. She said shortages can stem from how funds from supply budgets are spent.

"If teachers don't have what they need, they need to voice that," Jacobs said.

In the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, the school system spent $18 million on classroom supplies. Management teams at each school decide how to allocate funds in the supply budget for their school. The amount budgeted is based on the number of teachers at each school.

Among the requests posted online by Prince George's teachers are a rug for story time at Calverton Elementary, science fair materials at North Forestville Elementary, a digital camera for the school newspaper at DuVal High School in Lanham, a digital recorder for music classes at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, books to encourage reading at Drew-Freeman Middle School in Suitland, learning games at Lincoln Public Charter School in Temple Hills, a field trip for students at Robert Frost Elementary in New Carrollton and chart paper for reading lessons at Ridgecrest Elementary in Hyattsville.

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