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DonorsChoose.com Funding Hawaii Teachers

Outside of the Box: Public school teachers have to get creative when it comes to funding for their classroom.


illustration: jing jing tsong

Kelli Taboada doesn’t have much of a budget to buy school supplies for her second-grade students at Fern Elementary School in Kalihi.

“We’re in a bind,” says Taboada. “We use a lot of our own money. I do struggle, but I still purchase things for the class because my students deserve it, they need these things.”

It’s no secret that public school teachers spend a lot of their own money on projects and supplies for their students, especially given the state Department of Education’s ongoing budget cuts. Taboada says she spent about $300 before the current school year started this summer, and will continue to buy supplies throughout the year.

To alleviate the financial burden, she turned to Donors Choose, a website started in 2000 by a teacher in the Bronx to help teachers raise funds for their classrooms. The formula is simple: Teachers and school counselors post their projects online, whether they’re for art, science, technology, math or basic supplies, and anyone can click on a project and donate. Teachers from every state are using the website; there are currently 38 Hawaii projects. Teachers have five months to get their projects funded.

Once a project has been fully paid for—most projects need $200 to $900—the Donors Choose staff work with a list of vendors to order the supplies and have them sent to the teacher. The teachers and students then send thank-you letters to the donors and post pictures with their new supplies online.

Taboada is aiming for book bins and about 50 books for her students to read in class and at home. “The majority of my students aren’t exposed to books—they don’t have them at home,” she says. Currently, Taboada provides books for her 20 students, some of whom are in special education and learning English as a second language, but says the reading levels of her students vary greatly. They’ve also all read the books she lent them.

So far, five donors have given $105 to Taboada’s project, leaving $320 to go. Hawaii’s projects, interestingly enough, are funded half by residents and half by the kindness of strangers on the Mainland, including donors from California, Arizona and Illinois.

“Most local donors are not parents [of the school project they donate to],” says Nicole Testa, a behavioral specialist at Dole Middle School.

Testa, who first used Donors Choose to get funding for 54 backpacks with school supplies for Dole’s low-income students, recently won more funding, for a silk-screening project.

“As an art therapist, I see students with behavioral and emotional issues,” Testa says. “The students love silk-screening. They’re very proud and work hard. It teaches them patience, too.”

“You have to look outside of the box and get creative to try to get funding for the classroom,” adds Taboada.

This story first appeared on honolulumagazine.com. See the original here.


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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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