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First grade teacher makes over $7k in classroom grants



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May 07, 2014 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

First grade teacher Michele Smyth shops for school supplies with grants.

She has won more than $7,000 for 17 grants in the last five years for her Webber Elementary classroom, which is flourishing in books, enrichment activities, media tools, I-pads, phonics games, digital cameras, quiz cards

All she has to do is submit a project grant request to DonorsChoose.org outlining the supplies, purpose behind the project, what she hopes her students will achieve and timeframe, and the donations pour in.

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DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that matches nation-wide donors with grants proposed by public school teachers in an effort to donate supplies directly to the classroom. If her project is completely funded in the timeframe, donors can give $1 or fund the entire project—the website company sends the materials to the classroom in exchange for photos of the supplies being used, thank you cards, and teacher-donator correspondence.

On Wednesday, April 30 Smyth and her classroom received a special visit from a local donor, Jeff Lauth of Rochester Hills, who wanted to actually meet the inspiring teacher he found on the website.

"One of the unique things about Ms. Smyth is she takes the time," Lauth said. "Her passion is how I became connected with her."

Scrolling through the assorted projects and teachers on the website, Lauth said you can pick out the passionate teachers easily.

"She's very good at promoting it, keeping the project under $500, summarizing what it is. She sells her classroom. But I really think it comes from the heart," Lauth said.

Smyth said providing enrichment materials for her classroom is essential.

"When the money runs out, we go without," Smyth said.

She doesn't want to go without.

She has been working in the Lake Orion School District for six years, and began the grant quests on year two. Other teachers have participated on the website, she said, but not to this extent.

More than 70 percent of the books in Smyth's classrooms are grant-funded books. Her students zip through about 10 books a day, which must be replaced relatively quickly after being "loved to death."

Four double-shelved cabinets are loaded with puzzles, mind games and math initiatives, "almost an embarrassment of riches at this point."

An activity set including wireless headphones and a radio device that plays word study pieces could easily cost $400, she said, something the district cannot afford.

"Some students come here for the books, for the math opportunities, for the hands on learning. Not everyone has technology at home. This is the place where they can have that," Smyth said.

To find out more about the online charity website, visit www.donorschoose.org.

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