When a teacher in New Castle County, Delaware, had to get reading materials to her English learners during lockdown in 2020, she used a brand new funding tool to turn her car into a bookmobile. The teacher received state COVID relief funding through DonorsChoose, and was able to drive through her community on weekends distributing books so students didn’t fall behind in literacy.
Prior to the pandemic, DonorsChoose connected educators with philanthropists and other organizations to fill funding requests. In fact, four in five public schools have at least one teacher who has posted a project on the platform, the organization says. It has now partnered with several state education departments—Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, Nevada, Hawaii and Delaware—to bank $42 million in ESSER funding to respond quickly and directly to the needs of educators and students.
Here’s how it works: Once a teacher posts a request for assistance, DonorsChoose confirms the project is legitimate and is designed to improve student outcomes. Then, the school’s principal is notified of the funding and DonorsChoose orders the appropriate resources, which can show up within just a few days, says Ali Rosen, the platform’s vice president of business development. No money changes hands throughout the process. “It’s a really, really rapid way to respond to impacts of coronavirus,” Rosen says. “It allows every single teacher to address the unique situation they are in and it allows states to reach teachersÂ directly in their classrooms.”
This school year, a teacher in Arizona saw students having trouble working together after schools reopened. She got funding through DonorsChoose to redesign her classroom with flexible seating—wobbly stools, lap desks and small tables—that allows her students to reacclimate to collaboration, cooperation and small-group instruction.
Providing direct classroom funding shows professional respect for teachers and supports student success, says’ Kathy Hoffman, Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction. “Students gain access to resources they would not have without these funds, from unique learning opportunities like STEM or art projects or even a new classroom library,” Hoffman says. “Teachers know their students’ academic needs better than anyone and can design tailored projects.”
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The current DonorsChoose campaign is rebuilding teacher morale and the newly-funded projects are helping students bounce back from the ordeals of the pandemic. “While it is too soon to tell if Arizona teachers were retained because of our initiative, we know from past DonorsChoose campaigns that teachers with a funded project were more likely to stay in the classroom than those who did not participate,” Hoffman says.
The ability to connect directly with state and philanthropic funding sources is empowering teachers with additional decision-making power. One University of Michigan study commissioned by DonorsChoose backs up what Hoffman says about retention. Research has shown that access to the platform can reduce by 22% the likelihood teachers will leave their school. A second University of Michigan study linked DonorsChoose funding to an increase in the number of students passing year-end exams.
In Hawaii, two teachers received about $2,200 from the state department of education to team their middle school students up to plant and harvest a school garden. “Even though many of these projects are small, they have an outsize impact,” Rosen says.