• Dec. 20, 2016
    Teachers find success through crowdfunding

    Students with skeleton Teachers at Streams Elementary School in the Upper St. Clair School District have found a creative way to fund individual classroom projects. Three teachers have received a total of $2,000 for five classroom projects through the crowdfunding website DonorsChoose.org.

    Crowdfunding has become a popular way to raise money for everything from medical treatments to bringing an NBA team to Pittsburgh (which has raised $2,620 so far). DonorsChoose.org focuses specifically on education. Its mission is to “make it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need, moving us closer to a nation where students in every community have the tools and experiences they need for a great education.”

    Dr. Claire Miller, Streams Elementary principal, has encouraged teachers to pursue these creative funding sources in order to finance innovative classroom projects.

    “As building principal, I often have staff members come to me with creative ideas, or unique student needs. Finding immediate funding sources to bring those ideas to life can be a challenge,” Dr. Miller said. “Turning to crowdsourcing, as a means for funding, seems like a logical way to bridge classroom needs with citizens looking to support the great work being done by our teachers.”

    Third grade teacher Emily LaSalle has had three $450 projects successfully funded through DonorsChoose.org. The projects, titled Lights, Camera, Action: Social Studies Alive!; Cultural Hats of the World; and Parade of Nations all had an inquiry based focus on science, social studies and world culture.

    “The students created a miniature parade float and presented research during our ‘Parade of Nations’ green screen movie,” Mrs. LaSalle said. “They got into character using cultural hats from around the world. In addition, we now have a third grade mascot – a life-sized skeleton who helps us during our Human Body unit and STEAM knee brace challenge.”

    Mrs. LaSalle’s projects piqued the interested of an Upper St. Clair High School alumnus.

    “All three projects received substantial donations from a graduate of Upper St. Clair!” Mrs. LaSalle said. “He found us and donated during the #BestSchoolDay flash funding event that was orchestrated by celebrities last year.”

    The feedback from parents, students and other teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.

    “The parents and students were so excited to know that total strangers cared enough about their education to donate to us!” Mrs. LaSalle said. “We spend a lot of time talking to the students about taking action to help others...so this was neat to see it come full circle.”

    Fellow teachers have been equally enthused and motivated by Mrs. LaSalle’s success with crowdfunding.

    “The whole process was extremely positive. A few other teachers in my building wrote projects after seeing our success!” she said.

    One of those teachers was Leslie Smirniw, school counselor, who wrote a proposal for a project titled, “Bouncing Our Way to Better Mental Health.” The project raised $200 to purchase balance balls that can be used in lieu of student chairs.

    “As the school counselor in a K-4 building, I see students when they are feeling stressed, sad, angry, or when they just want to sit and talk for a bit,” Mrs. Smirniw said. “Bouncing helps to relax students and makes it easier for them to talk. These stability balls greatly enhance my ability to help my students feel calm and ready to learn!”

    Mrs. Smirniw was amazed by the generosity of Streams Elementary families as four of the six project donors have children in the school.

    “I was expecting a corporation or local company to fund the project, and I was so humbled to see that it was our very own families donating,” Mrs. Smirniw said. “This speaks volumes about how much our families value the role of the school counselor.”

    In an effort to expand STEAM opportunities, second grade teacher Lauren Bogus received approximately $275 for her project titled “Classroom Coders.” The additional funding enabled her to purchase Coding Mice and develop the coding skills of her students.

    “Students today are growing up in a world where technology is advancing by the minute! We need to prepare them for valuable skills beginning at a young age,” Mrs. Bogus said. “In my classroom, students now have opportunity to code weekly and, ultimately, I plan on having my class of second graders teach younger students in our school about the skill of coding.”

    According to the Education Market Association, the average teacher spent $500 of his/her own monies on school supplies during the previous year and, one in 10 spent $1,000 or more. Crowdfunding provides teachers another alternative to funding worthwhile projects.

    “Crowdfunding is a great resource for our teachers who have that entrepreneurial spirit,” Sheila Gorgonio, director of advancement for Upper St. Clair School District, said. “This is an excellent opportunity to gain the resources needed for specific classroom projects that are beyond the normal school budget.”

    Before getting started, teachers must receive approval from the school principal to ensure alignment with the grade level, school and district priorities. Proposed projects with a goal of more than $500 or that are directed to individuals, foundations and/or businesses beyond the classroom and school community must be coordinated with Mrs. Gorgonio in the district’s advancement office.