Bentley wrote a thank-you note to the donors who paid for the video camera. “My students and I are leaning by doing,” he wrote. “And your help has made that possible. We have 10 mini-documentary films in pre-production. We have several more in production. There isn’t a day that goes by where a student remarks that whatever we’re doing ought to be turned into a film production.”
DonorsChoose.org uses three criteria to evaluate the proposals from teachers: the proposal can’t discriminate, can’t be to help a school proselytize, and must be for a student experience. The website has been used to fund requests from around the country; everything from special computer equiptment, to field trips, to new text books.
Additionally, the organization protects donors from fraud by screening and authenticating all requests before putting them on the Internet. Donations aren’t given to teachers as cash, either. Once a project is fully funded, the requested materials are purchased by DonorsChoose and shipped directly to the teacher’s classroom.
Increasing interest in education
Best is somewhat discouraged by the fact that teachers have to pay for paper and pencils with money from their own salaries — it is just further evidence that education doesn't get enough money, he says. But he believes DonorsChoose.org might open the way for more school funding, particularly in low-income areas. When people understand the great need in public schools, they may be more inclined to do something about it, Best said.
And this isn’t just wishful thinking. Best has actually seen it play out with donors across the country. For example, Jim Hunt, former governor of North Carolina, was perusing DonorsChoose.org several years ago looking for a project to contribute to when he came across a request for a set of dictionaries from a school in his home county. Hunt was livid that a school near him didn’t have, of all things, dictionaries. He called the local school to find out what was going on. His interest sparked discussion in the region about how education funding might be improved to more efficiently meet the needs of teachers .
Best says that Hunt’s experience is typical of the group's supporters. “Sixty percent of our donors said they were more interested in public education reform as a result of their website experience at DonorsChoose.org,” Best said in an interview with NPR. For many, “it was their first really vivid personal encounter with what is going on in public schools in low-income communities and with the unmet needs of students in our public schools.”
But according to Annemarie Wikstrom, a third-grade teacher at a high-poverty school in Lafayette, La., who uses DonorsChoose.org regularly, donors aren’t the only ones who experience a paradigm shift by participating. “I think that the goal of teaching is to change the perspective of the student,” Wilstrom said. “[The kids] are amazed to see that people they don’t even know are sending them such wonderful materials to use to learn. So not only is it great from an educational standpoint, but from character building. It is really teaching these kids what it means to care.”
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