From the February 2020 issue

Crowdfunding for Public Schools’ Needs Growing in Metro Detroit

Whether it's due to tight budgets or the unique needs of its students, crowdfunding for public schools has picked up steam with websites like DonorsChoose.

Fundraising is a time-honored tradition used by schools to increase revenue for certain projects or needs. And these days, crowdfunding for public schools is gathering steam as teachers turn to the web and community at large to appeal for much-needed money by a set deadline.

The reasons vary widely, but one website in particular is making it easier to drum up the money. That would be national teacher-founded nonprofit DonorsChoose. It supports schools through financial contributions to projects that benefit students and schools in need. And it traces its roots back to 2000 – well before crowdfunding was a household term.

Open to every public school in the country, it gives teacher the chance to create digital fundraisers for vetted projects – from “butterfly cocoons to robotic kits to Little House on the Prairie” books, the DonorsChoose website notes.

Here’s a look at how three schools in metro Detroit have used crowdfunding to support important needs in their classrooms.

Keeping clothing clean

Children in our own backyards sometimes don’t go to school. It’s not because they’re truant or don’t want to learn – but because they don’t have a washing machine or dryer to clean their clothes. They stay away due to embarrassment.

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Roshelle Shoulders, success coach at Southeastern High School in Detroit, part of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, wants to empower students who live in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Shoulders hopes to raise $1,636 for a washing machine and a dryer for the school by Feb. 24, 2020, which is when the online fundraiser expires.

Her fundraiser is about giving students the chance to have clean clothes and “confidence, positive self-esteem and (an) increase their attendance.”

Shoulders’ last name embodies how she has carried many loads, literally, for her students – but that burden became heavy.

“I used to wash the clothes here with another teacher,” she says. “We would collect them from children and take them home to wash them twice a week.”

Currently, the school’s washer and dryer are in disrepair.

Shoulders started the fundraiser in fall of 2019. If she doesn’t meet her goal by deadline, she’ll try again.

“This would be a great way to help out for the kids’ future,” she says.

Chromebooks and sensory rooms

Teacher Pamela Tinsley at Bradford Academy Charter School in Southfield is in need of over $2,000 for six Chromebooks to help increase reading and math skills. According to her DonorsChoose post, half of her students read at first-grade level and are in third grade.

“Providing these computers to the students will really inspire the students to want to learn,” Tinsley says online.

And Nancy Kelly, occupational therapist at Taft-Galloway Elementary School in Wayne, raised about $1,700 between November and December 2019 to create the Taft Sensory Room for students.

“Students with autism require extra sensory activity to develop their ability to process the many sensory stimuli they experience on a daily basis,” she notes online.

The room can help students feel safer, less anxious and calm their nervous system.

“We never thought we would receive such huge outpouring of love and support so quickly,” she tells Metro Parent, adding that a majority of the money came from one individual.

Kelly says the next step is requesting from the public funds to purchase a Southpaw-brand Steamroller device for the sensory room for almost $700. The sensory machine provides calming, deep pressure to children.

“Not only are kids with autism going to benefit; our kids with ADHD and other sensory processing disorders are going to be able to use the same area,” Kelly says. “It’s a huge piece for them to get their bodies ready to learn.”

Keeping the impact going

Michigan has raised over $21 million to fund more than 40,000 projects posted by 13,900 teachers at nearly 3,000 schools from 526 districts over the last 20 years, DonorsChoose tells Metro Parent.

Kirk Smiley, the managing director of advocacy and public partnerships, says he’s thrilled by the number of generous donors nationwide.

“We vet every single project that teachers post, verifying the value of those items,” he says, “and, when the materials arrive, that they become school property to ensure students are the ultimate beneficiaries.

To learn more – and to find if your child’s school is on the list (or another school you’d like to support) – visit the DonorsChoose website.

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