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Donations through website fund teachers’ dream tools

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  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Online charity donorschoose.org helped special-education teachers at Waipahu High School buy new equipment. Sonia Benjamin, left, teacher Bailey Lojek, Malele Paulo, Robert Stevens and educational assistant Edith Ervin work on a project where students devise a protective case for an egg and then drop the egg from various heights to test the design.

Waipahu High School sophomore Deijavue Ortiz was having trouble seeing the blackboard in math class, but her teacher was able to get a new LCD projector from a national online charity that brings her entire classroom into focus.

HOW IT WORKS

DonorsChoose.org connects classrooms in need with anyone who wants to help in every state in the union. First a teacher submits a project request at www.donorschoose.org/teachers. The request is vetted by the organization, then posted online.

The teacher may inform supporters and students’ parents about the request, but generally anyone nationwide can read about the request and donate any amount.

DonorsChoose purchases the classroom materials and ships the items directly to the school. It posts photos of the project taking place, teacher and student thank-you notes, and a cost report detailing how every dollar was spent.

More than two dozen Hawaii projects are pending. Among them:

» Mr. R’s students need basic school supplies like paper, pencils, glue, rulers and scissors.

» Ms. A’s students need books about Hawaii that will interest them and that they can relate to.

» Mrs. S’s students need 10 board games to play during recess, including Scrabble Jr. and Trouble.

 

"The projector made it easier for me to understand math; it can make it bigger for me to see on the board," said Ortiz, who has severely limited vision in her left eye and none in her right. "My goal is to understand and learn how to count back the change so I can go into sales," she added.

Math teacher Kaitlin Taber got the projector in February from www.DonorsChoose.org, which is almost like having a year-round Santa Claus for public school teachers.

Teachers nationwide often buy materials that their students and their school district cannot afford. Taber estimated that she shells out between $500 and $600 annually.

DonorsChoose.org was formed in 2000 by a Bronx, N.Y., teacher in response to the scarcity of necessary learning materials. In the decade since, the nonprofit organization has raised more than $53 million and helped more than 3 million students nationwide, according to its website.

Since the organization’s initial project in Hawaii in 2007, DonorsChoose.org has funded 338 projects involving 97 schools and $144,298 in donations. So far this year, $16,500 in donations has been distributed to Hawaii schools, according to Charlotte Weiskittel, organization spokeswoman.

Donorschoose.org is "an excellent resource, especially for Title I (federally designated low-income) schools," said Taber. The projector cost almost $1,000, way out of the range of her classroom budget, she added.

"This technology has helped to revolutionize my classroom instruction. My use of online resources has increased exponentially. … I can plan lessons the night before instead of writing them on the blackboard, which takes time.

"Their engagement has gone up so much. It’s very exciting and visually engaging," Taber said.

Special-ed science teacher Bailey Lojek is the queen of DonorsChoose.org at Waipahu High, having received several grants to put innovative lesson plans into action since last December.

"I was spending a lot of my own money, probably over $1,000 a year. I really wanted to make it special for my students. I was trying to focus on things they are not normally exposed to, and to help them become responsible citizens of the earth," Lojek said.

She has received video cameras that students use to document projects; a worm decomposer for food scraps that enrich their garden; and owl droppings so students could analyze the digestive process.

 

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