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DonorsChoose.org puts teachers in touch with willing supporters

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Posted: Friday, January 6, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:08 am, Fri Jan 6, 2012.

Attention teachers: If Santa failed to bring the books, science equipment and classroom supplies on your wishlist, turn to the internet.

DonorsChoose.org connects individuals and corporations with classrooms in need using a website teachers say is easy to navigate.

“I’m surprised more teachers don’t use it. It doesn’t take much to set something up once you know what you’re looking for,” said Galt High School science teacher Brooke Beckett.

The site reads like a Facebook newsfeed, tracking donations, comments and new projects on a daily basis, along with national and regional statistics.

Full-time teachers, coaches, counselors or librarians who work at public elementary, middle or high schools can submit projects that will benefit their own students. Site visitors donate what they choose to a project that catches their eye.

What makes a donation to this site different is that all donors choose exactly where their money goes. Teachers are required to send thank you letters within 20 days of receiving the supplies.

Five projects are currently awaiting funding in the Lodi and Galt school districts.

One is for Aimee Ramsower’s classroom at Tokay Colony Elementary School. Her students need leveled reading books to add to their core curriculum.

Ramsower has posted two projects on the website. One was last year, for a set of leveled nonfiction reading books for her sixth-graders. The total cost was nearly $1,000, but the project was fully funded in a couple of months. She also linked to the project page on her personal Facebook page to let friends and family know.

“It’s really simple,” she said. All it takes is logging in, creating a profile with information about the school and the grade, and picking out the items needed from the supplier catalog. The site doesn’t share personal information. Then, wait for the donations to come in.

“It’s a very good way to get supplemental materials,” said Ramsower. “My kids last year really liked it because nonfiction readers are not always available.”

Right now, she has a project posted for more books for her secondand third-graders.

Ramsower said there is no extra money at the district available for supplemental classroom supplies right now. Donations help bridge the gap.

The site was started in 2000, when New York teacher Charles Best was inspired to find a new way for teachers to fund fun classroom extras like field trips and art projects. Dan Blum, who works for DonorsChoose.org, said the goal for this school year is to fund $40 million worth of classroom projects.

Nearly 44,000 projects have been fully funded in California. San Joaquin County has seen 297 projects funded, with 45 of them in the Lodi Unified School District.

But what really pushes some projects forward is corporate partnerships.

Some major companies agree to match donations made on certain projects. This means that something adding up to a few thousand dollars, like new science equipment, might find its way to a classroom weeks earlier than expected.

In November, Pacific Gas and Electric partnered with DonorsChoose.org to match funds donated to projects in San Joaquin County. As of Dec. 22, 2011 the company has donated more than $25,000 and reached nearly 8,000 students.

In Lodi, 347 students benefitted from PG&E and community support at Joe Serna Jr. Charter School, Vinewood Elementary School, Tokay High School, Lois Borchardt Elementary School, and Washington Elementary School.

Beckett heard of the website a few years ago through word of mouth, but held off on signing up even though her classroom could use some new equipment. She made a small donation to a fellow physics teacher in Pennsylvania to test out the site, and was pleased with her findings.

“I really liked it, because you can say, ‘Well, budgets are cut but I could really use these things,’” she said. “It’s almost easier to order supplies through this than through our own district.”

Beckett hasn’t told her students this year that she is using the site to get classroom supplies.

Instead, her projects have been funded by well-intentioned strangers.

“It’s kind of nice to know there’re people out the who care,” she said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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