Mrs. Sorokas needs a working CD player, an essential part of her multisensory curriculum. Ms. Maniaci would like ribbons, puppets and scarves to create a hands-on learning experience in her music classroom. Ms. Esmaili just wants paper, so her pre-K students can draw and learn to write their names.
These are just a few of the DonorsChoose projects posted by teachers at Chappell Elementary, 2135 W. Foster Ave., with an assist from the Winnemac Park Neighbors.
DonorsChoose, founded in 2000, matches the needs of public school teachers with donors across America. Since 2003, the organization has helped raise more than $100 million, funding nearly 264,000 projects at 50,000-plus schools. Combing the site searching for projects associated with Chappell, the Winnemac Park Neighbors (WPN) group noticed the school wasn’t receiving a whole lot of those dollars.
“I’ve looked on the page before but I have not been able to set aside the time” to create a project, said Mireya Beaton, eighth-grader teacher at Chappell.
Enter WPN. Members Kristen Swanberg and Eric Rojas attended a faculty meeting and proposed a DonorsChoose workshop. Swanberg, who moved to the neighborhood in September 2011, previously taught at Orr High School. “I know if people had come into Orr creating more work for us, people would have been rolling their eyes,” she said. “I was so excited to see how enthusiastic they were.”
On March 2, teachers met for an hour before school in Chappell’s computer lab. Swanberg floated around the room, helping teachers navigate the DonorsChoose website and refine their project descriptions.
“Kristen and Eric came in and presented, so I know a little about it,” said Jenny Kovacs, who teaches special education, K-3. “I want to be educated about what I want and why I want it.”
For Kovacs, who student taught in the suburbs, the lack of technology in the classroom is one of her biggest challenges. “I don’t even have an overhead projector,” she said. Video, audio and tactile materials are particularly helpful to students with learning disabilities. “A lot of my kids, they’re very visual,” she said. “They have very different learning styles.”
WPN’s goal is to raise awareness of these needs among area residents. “We’re a direct conduit. If the school has needs, we can bring them to the greater community,” said Eric Rojas, WPN president.
“It’s just a good thing to see that people care,” said Batyia Wolf, speech pathologist. “People are out there looking for how they can help.” Wolf successfully posted to DonorsChoose in the past and received a color printer and ink. “I would check all the time,” she said. “I’d get really excited when I’d see a new donation.”
As with most DonorsChoose projects, the teachers at Chappell aren’t looking for big-ticket items like iPads for an entire classroom but rather materials that will help make them more effective educators.
Mireya Beaton, who teaches eighth-grade English, has some students reading at a fourth-grade level and others at 12th-grade. The trend is for students to read books of their own interest, at their own level–whether it’s Hunger Games or A Tale of Two Cities–with the instructor modifying the assignment to suit students’ range of capabilities. “We’re trying to get students away from textbooks and get them ready for high school,” Beaton said.
With a classroom of voracious readers, Beaton has a hard time providing enough books to satisfy demand. “I do go to Half Price Books, but after a while it does become expensive,” she said of her out-of-pocket purchases.
“We kept trying to figure out a way where the community can help,” said Rojas. “Now we have a vehicle where parents know their class has a project. It’s a real tangible way to help their kid’s class.”