Thursday, May 10, 2018

CHCCS Teachers Benefit from $29 Million DonorsChoose Gift

Unless you keep up with Stephen Colbert’s fundraising preferences, you would be forgiven for asking what the comedian has to do with the new Sphero robots at Ephesus Elementary, or the soon-to-be-delivered collaborative desks at Seawell Elementary. But Colbert has long been a friend and fan of DonorsChoose, the national non-profit that funds teacher requests. This spring, Colbert used his late night show to announce a $29 million gift from the cryptocurrency company Ripple, a gift that funded every single active request on DonorsChoose nationwide. Five Chapel Hill-Carrboro teachers had the good fortune to be among the 28,210 teachers whose projects were filled by the Ripple gift.
Claire Nelson, third-grade teacher at Ephesus, said, “Needless to say, I’m still quite shocked at Ripple’s generosity!”  She had requested six Sphero Mini robots and one Sphero SPRK robot, after learning about the resource at the North Carolina Technology in Education Society (NCTIES) conference that she attended in March. “My son is on a high school robotics team. I have seen what a difference robotics and coding has made to him. Even though robotics and coding are out of my comfort zone, I wanted to challenge myself to integrate it into my classroom instruction. I sought out a few sessions on Robotics and Programming at NCTIES. I decided Sphero would be a perfect place to start!”
Tori Mazur, Digital Learning Specialist at Ephesus, said she has been using DonorsChoose since 2008, and she now writes most of her project requests with the school’s Hour of Code in mind. “We borrowed a 12-pack [of Spheros] from Morris Grove for Hour of Code in December and we discovered so much potential, that we had to have our own!”
The title of Mazur’s funded project was “May the Force & Motion Be With Us!” She wrote in her proposal, “My students need a 12-pack of Spheros to work in programming teams. We can use the force (and motion) standards to engage in STEM every day, not just during Hour of Code.”
Nationally, the Ripple gift funded more than 35,000 classroom requests, which according to DonorsChoose, will cover 70,000 books, 15,000 art supplies and 6,200 pieces of lab equipment. The day after Colbert announced the Ripple gift on his show, teachers created more than 15,600 projects on DonorsChoose, which beat the site's record for the number of projects created in an entire week.
Nan Lujan, English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Seawell Elementary, benefited from Ripple’s gift with the funding of two separate requests: i-Pads for first grade math centers, called “Math that is Just Right for Me,” and “Black History Matters” for twenty T-shirts for children and adults to wear at school events. For the i-Pads, Lujan wrote, “One of our centers is technology, in which students can utilize a program which uses a screener to determine what specific skills a student is proficient in and which skills they need to work on in order to become proficient. It then tailors their time in the application to allow them to practice the skills they need the most work in so that they may advance.” In regards to the T-shirts donation, Lujan explained, “We want our kids of color and all of our kids to know that at our school, Black History Matters.We would love to be able to outfit our teachers and students in our affinity group with Black History Matters t-shirts to make a strong statement at our assembly and throughout the school year. It's important that we tell the stories of strong black men and strong black women and inspire a new generation.”
Tomika Altman-Lewis, the fifth-grade Learning Environment for Advanced Placement (LEAP) teacher at Seawell, has a long and fruitful history with DonorsChoose, and she now serves as an ambassador for the non-profit, as well as an essay reader for project proposals. “As an ambassador, I help spread the word about DonorsChoose and assist teachers with creating their projects.” Over the years, DonorsChoose has funded 61 of Altman-Lewis’ requests, most of which have supported her wide-ranging and creative approaches to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) instruction.
Her most recent grant was for twelve standing desks, plus materials for hands-on learning activities. For “The Ultimate Learning Space,” Altman-Lewis wrote, “Learning does not stand still and neither should my students. Students need the opportunity to move, materials for them to work collaboratively or independently, and space for them to feel comfortable. Students will learn about architectural design and blueprints as they create the ultimate learning environment because my students will design the layout of our class.”

“Game On” was what Altman-Lewis named her other request. “Integrating literacy with hands-on experiences will allow my students to truly understand the concepts taught in school and this project will allow them to share such learning with their families. I am requesting a variety of STEM-related games such as the Food Chain, Mammal Survival, Human Body, and Forces and Motion activity kits and family games such as 'Smath, 5 Second Rule, Man Bites Dog, and etc. These games will also serve as models when they create their own games.”
The fifth teacher to receive a DonorsChoose gift from the Ripple donation was Jessica Plant, seventh-grade math teacher at Culbreth. Titled “Help! I Can’t Sit Still,” Plant’s request was for additional seating choices. “Students will have the option to sit on the classroom rug, sit on yoga balls, or on the bean bags to complete classwork assignments and work collaboratively with their peers. These materials will make a difference in the lives of my students and help students that have a lot of trouble staying focused for the entire class period.”
Two years ago Stephen Colbert, as a member of the board of directors of DonorsChoose, pledged to pay for every project request in South Carolina, his home state. Little did he know that he was establishing a national model for blanket funding.
DonorsChoose CEO Charles Best told EdSurge, "We believe in the wisdom of the front lines. Hardworking, passionate teachers know their students' needs better than anyone else in the school environment. If we can tap into their needs, we can unleash smarter solutions and empower those people on the front lines."

View Colbert’s announcement here: