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Teacher earns more than $3,600 for classroom

Alexis Hadley-Brock lays in some of the new books her class will get to use. Photo submitted. (click for larger version)
November 14, 2012 - Show me a resourceful teacher, and I'll show you some smart students.

Webber Elementary teacher Michele Smyth is just such a teacher. By partnering with education fundraising website Donors Choose, Smyth has garnered $3,631 in materials for her classes. Items like a CD player with wireless headphones, a Canon digital camera, phonics games, sets of readers, and drama costumes have been purchased for Smyth's class with money donated through Donors Choose.

Donors Choose refers to its mission as citizen philanthropy. Public school teachers post project requests, and donors can view these projects and donate cash directly to that particular need. Donors Choose then purchases the items and ships them to the teacher.

Smyth first heard about the program through an online education blog. After researching the digital donation site and seeing it highlighted on The Colbert Report, she knew it was just the thing to help her classes.

This is Smyth's fourth year working with Donors Choose. Open only to public school teachers, Smyth said all that is required of her is to fill out a questionnaire explaining her classroom, its needs, the students, and the kind of things they want to learn about. Teachers can request field trip requests, special speakers, or materials for their classroom.

A small board reviews the proposals and modifies the educational jargon so that the layperson can understand to what they are donating.

The process works much like a gift registry. Donors Choose takes care of the purchasing, they ship it to us, we take photos of the students using the items, and then we also write 'thank you' notes that Donors Choose distributes to all the donors."

Over the years, Smyth has procured items for her classes.

"When we do our economic unit in the spring, I bring in the dramatic play costumes and [students] can dress up as what they want to be when they grow up." Costumes like firefighter, nurse, chef, veterinarian, or mail carrier allow children to role play and explore their career choice.

Another project Donors Choose has funded for Smyth's classes is a hardcover set of story books. These books teach her kindergarteners and first graders "a sense of story and to how to retell stories."

An item that gets used every day, Smyth said, is the CD player and set of six wireless headphones.

"What's nice with the wireless [headphones] is that they don't get tangled up into each other. Students can actually sit up to 15 feet away from the CD player and it still picks up the reception."

Smyth will continue to partner with Donors Choose. Right now she has a request for an iPad listed.

"We do have one in our classroom, but a second one would be nice so that they can do some partner work," she said.

"It's very exciting that teachers are seeking opportuntities to get support for materials and resources for their classrooms. I though that was pretty innovative and creative and have shared the Donors Choose website with other teachers," said Lake Orion Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis.

If you'd like to help Smyth or other Orion educators, visit donorschoose.org\msmyth. In addition to Smyth's classroom material needs, other Lake Orion proposals can be found there as well.

"It is really nice at the holidays. Last year, I had parents wanting to buy me Christmas presents, and I said, 'instead of buying me gifts, why not donate to Donors Choose?' It comes right back to the schools, and that way your kids get to benefit." With a laugh, she added, "I only need so many coffee mugs."

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