Public schools have consistently been under attack for funding cuts year after year.
With public funding being cut within education, the number of stories of teachers who have paid out of their own pocket for activities, new books or field trips has been on the rise. The average teacher is expected to spend over $400 on classroom supplies this year alone.
In 2000, DonorsChoose.org was founded to match public school teacher’s projects with citizen sponsors willing to give toward their project. Since then, it is estimated that over 60% of public school teachers in America have created project requests with over 236,000 classroom projects receiving funding. From DonorsChoose.org comes a spinoff, called Think It Up. Think It Up was launched in July, 2015 as a national initiative of the Entertainment Industry Foundation focused on soliciting ideas from students on projects and finding associated funding by leveraging the DonorsChoose.org platform.
Think It Up is a fantastic spin on crowdsourcing projects from kids and crowdfunding from supporters. Not only does the platform spur innovative new ideas directly from the children who will benefit from those projects, but it provides a great learning experience as well. Public school students (grades 7-12) can come up with an idea that they would like to see happen in their community and then work with a teacher sponsor to prepare a grant proposal for the project. Think It Up provides a toolkit to assist in teaching students how to prepare the proposal including explanation of the idea, the projected funding required, and how they will manage the project with their teacher sponsor, if funded. The project is then posted on the DonorsChoose.org platform and given a four-month timeline for funding. Students can publicize to family and friends and initial projects have also been funded by ‘Staples for Students’ corporate sponsorship. If funding is not met then all donations are returned to the sponsors in the form of credit that can be applied to a different project and the student has the option to work with their teacher sponsor to reapply. If funding is met, then all project materials are ordered by DonorsChoose.org and shipped directly to the classroom. The students are required to work with their teacher sponsor to take pictures, write an impact report that is sent to their donors, and send handwritten thank you notes to high contribution donors.
Success to Date
‘Staples for Students’ is the project’s first corporate sponsor, and has pledged $10 million to the initiative. Other supporters such as the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation have also pledged to match 50% of project funding when matched by citizen donors. Citizen donorship just started in September 2015, so details on the number of citizen sponsored projects successfully funded is not yet available.
By searching on the DonorsChoose.org platform for student-led projects, one can see a variety of current campaigns including a Social Emotional Learning Book Club for high school students, a 3D printer request for a group of students who want to show others about character creation, and funding for a robotics club to attend the ‘Live Love Robots’ championships.
In reading through the different submissions, it appears that some projects may be driven mainly by the teacher sponsor instead of the students. This may be due to the relative newness to the student-led component. I have some concern that the project will receive some negative feedback for that, which would be a shame given the positive outcomes the projects are designed to promote, even if driven by the teacher.