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CCSD teachers rely more on crowdfunding site to meet pandemic needs

Third-grade teacher Shana Prue is turning to online crowdfunding during the COVID-19 pandemic more than she usually does to ask donors to buy supplies for her students.

Prue, who teaches at Long STEAM Academy in Las Vegas, uses DonorsChoose, a nonprofit platform where public school teachers can get funding for classroom projects.

She used it to help meet needs for digital resources like computer mice for her students during distance learning and to purchase basic school supplies and books for her classroom library.

“Teachers really come to rely on it and their students really benefit from people who make donations to any of the projects they find on there,” she said.

DonorsChoose helps fill a gap since teachers often spend money out of their own pockets each year on classroom supplies that aren’t provided by their school. And since the pandemic hit, the number of requests by Clark County School District and local public charter school teachers has increased drastically.

Pre-pandemic, there was an average of 1,131 local funded requests yearly over the previous 13 years. But from March 2020 through Thursday, 4,046 requests have been funded.

Once a project is funded, DonorsChoose buys and ships the requested items to the teacher.

Some requests focus on basic needs

Teachers often request items such as books and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) materials. But during the pandemic, more requests were geared toward meeting students’ basic needs.

Among them were hygiene kits for students or reusable water bottles, since school drinking foundations were turned off, said Kirk Smiley, managing director of advocacy and public partnerships at DonorsChoose.

“Really, whatever touches on those life needs that students need to be prepared to learn,” he said of the range of requests the organization receives.

Local teachers have also requested social-emotional learning resources to help students cope with the pandemic, he said, and technology equipment in order to teach from home during distance learning.

The school district operated with 100 percent distance learning for about a year before transitioning to bring students back to in-person classes in three waves in March and April. Families also have the option of continuing with distance learning.

In a statement, the school district said DonorsChoose is but one example of community support for educators and students during the pandemic.

“CCSD continues to partner with local and state organizations in order to help District families find the resources they need, whether it is for educational or personal purposes,” it said.

The district also has a school-community partnership office that works with residents and businesses “to provide supplies for schools through a number of supply drives throughout the year,” according to the statement.

DonorsChoose was launched 21 years ago and in 2007 opened its platform for use by any public school in the country. About half of the donors are individuals, and half are corporations and foundations.

“All of that giving has just continued to grow during the pandemic,” Smiley said.

Over the time that Clark County teachers have used the platform, donors have funded $9.7 million in requests for teachers at 342 schools. For the current school year alone, funded requests total about $1.6 million.

About 55 percent of the funding came from outside of Nevada. In other words, it’s not just coming from people who know the students and teachers, Smiley said.

“That’s the point of crowdfunding. That’s what makes us work,” he said.

The Clark County School District is one of more than 150 participating districts nationwide, including nine in Nevada.

The district partnership program allows DonorsChoose to provide administrators with information about fundraising opportunities, Smiley said, noting companies give millions of dollars each year for specific types of projects and some provide matching funds.

The nonprofit also works with school district business offices to provide reports of each product that’s delivered to a school, where it becomes district property, Smiley said. And the organization provides data, when requested, about the types of resources teachers are requesting most often and how that compares to the national average.

School district technology departments provide guidelines that appear on DonorsChoose’s website about the specific equipment needed, such as laptop computers.

“The teacher knows what model of Chromebook that district prefers them to use or other restrictions going on,” Smiley said.

What local teachers are requesting

Ashley Price, a special education teacher at Monaco Middle School in Las Vegas, has had eight projects funded via DonorsChoose since 2018. Of those, five — totaling more than $3,000 — have been during the pandemic.

“In 2020, I’ve pretty much had a project going at all times,” she said.

Price’s pandemic projects include distance learning survival bags for her students with school supplies and snacks, and getting more than 40 books that were written by culturally-diverse authors.

She also got paper and digital access to Scholastic News for her students to use during distance learning. And she requested a set of books related to social-emotional learning.

“It’s given me access to supplies and materials, and new, fresh, current things that I definitely couldn’t afford on my own,” said Price, who has been teaching for 14 years.

Prue, who has been a teacher for 25 years, has been using DonorsChoose since 2009 and had 27 projects funded. Most of those requests, she said, are in the $400 range.

Six projects were funded since March 2020 and she has three more currently posted on the website.

Prue typically requests help yearly with “consumable materials” — supplies such as pocket folders, pencils and paper — via DonorsChoose instead of buying them out of pocket.

In summer 2020, she requested and received supplies to help her students stay organized and crayons that better represent their skin colors “because I work at a very diverse school,” she said. “I wanted them to feel represented.”

On Friday, Prue was putting away books and book bins she requested through DonorsChoose that were recently delivered to the school.

She asked for books to refresh her classroom library since some books weren’t returned after distance learning. Plus, some of her students are at a lower reading level this school year and she needed books to accommodate them.

One of Prue’s projects that’s currently posted on DonorsChoose that hasn’t yet been funded: “Recess re-imagined.” Children couldn’t play on the playground equipment up until recently, “so recess has been kind of a drag,” she said.

Prue requested individual items such as jump ropes and balls so her students can burn off their energy while still being safe during the pandemic.

Another active request: Fidget toys for students, who are having trouble with stamina and playing attention after being home for a year for distance learning, she said.

Edmon Miguel, a teacher at McWilliams Elementary School in Las Vegas, has used DonorsChoose for almost three years. This school year he’s had about 15 projects funded, he said.

“When the pandemic started, we shut down quickly,” he said. “We weren’t able to go back to our classroom and get our materials. As a teacher, it is a struggle for us to buy our own materials for our kids with our own money.”

Miguel — who has taught in the United States for four years and previously for nearly 10 years in the Philippines — said he sends thank you messages to the donors and also takes the time to connect with people who’ve donated to his classroom previously.

Miguel said his classroom is a lively space thanks to materials he has received through DonorsChoose, noting many of his students are hands-on and visual learners.

“The students are really happy because every day, they are using these materials and they’re learning more,” he said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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