It is no secret that public education across the nation is woefully underfunded. Throw in a pandemic and things start to look worrisome.
This school year, as a result of the pandemic, districts across the state experienced a sudden $577 million dollars in reducations, according to the State Board of Education; and with more cuts on the way for the 2021-22 school year, teachers and community members in the valley have their concerns.
“Teachers should be funded as professionals who are extremely dedicated, and they’re not,” noted environmental educator Illene Pevec. “They very often end up buying school supplies for their kids.”
So, what are teachers doing? They’re getting creative.
“I started using DonorsChoose in 2014,” said Courtney Jaynes, a kindergarten teacher at Crystal River Elementary School (CRES). “A colleague suggested it and she said this is a group of people who want to donate to public education and help teachers out.”
Verified teachers simply put their requests online and donors can either send monetary funds or directly purchase the requested item.
“DonorsChoose is such a great resource because we cannot just rely on the funds put aside for teachers’ classrooms,” Jaynes said. “We get funding through the state, through our district, through the parents that give money for classroom supplies — but that only goes so far, and if you want to do some extra stuff in your classroom you’re either spending money yourself or this really cool organization can help you out.”
Pevec first learned about DonorChoose during a Zoom call with her Stanford University dormmates from 1960. For the group of friends it was a simple yet effective way to support children in their communities.
“The need is everywhere,” Pevec said. “It’s overwhelming if you try to figure out how to address these needs, but at least with DonorsChoose you can choose your own community or maybe another community; everybody can do something.”
When Jaynes was ready to try DonorsChoose, she made her first request: a document camera. She thoughtfully wrote out why she believed her students would benefit from it, the exact cost of the item, and how it would be used within her classroom. Within a matter of weeks the document camera was fully funded.
That simple act helped open the doors for alternative funding; the word quickly spread and soon teachers across the district started successfully using DonorsChoose.
“The more we saw these projects getting funded by these incredible people, the more we realized that it is possible,” Jaynes said.
Currently, 50% of students across the district come from low-income homes, according to the latest data submitted to the Colorado Department of Education. Given the pandemic, these families are now facing greater financial insecurities considering students are now required to have their own supplies.
“There’s lots of financial inequities in Carbondale, and teachers here are not in a position of asking parents for donations,” Pevec said. Some parents in the district are well-versed in grant writing, while other parents who are simply trying to put food on the table. This disparity oftentimes leads to disproportionate educational opportunities within the classrooms.
Every donation from pencils to imaginative play toys to sensory tables have helped create a warm and enriching academic environment — and Jaynes’ gratitude is apparent.
“We want to open up the world to students, and there are people out there who want to help us grow our classroom library,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t even know who the donors are, but my colleagues and I are just so grateful. We can’t wait for the day when we can invite them in to see what they have done.”
Ongoing projects in Carbondale
DonorsChoose (www.donorschoose.org) prides itself on transparency. All teachers must be verified and donations are regulated by the non profit. When the project is fully funded, DonorsChoose will use the money to purchase and ship the items to the teachers. The teachers then send thank you notes and photographs of the items in use to the donors.
Ms. Paulina, CRES – New materials for our preschool classroom
Description: Need new materials that are easy to sanitize daily. Additionally, students will need their own boxes of supplies that contain crayons, glue, markers, and play dough.
Number of students: 16
Amount left: $2,281*
Mrs. Contreras, CRES – COVID-19 requires individual supplies
Description: Classrooms are no longer able to have community shared supplies. Students will need their own supplies including pencils, erasers, color pencils, glue, binders, and markers. Many students are ESL and low-income.
Number of students: 23
Amount left: $1,032*
*As of press time