AL educators using crowdsource funding for classroom projects

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - As parents and students prepare for the upcoming school year by buying supplies and clothes, teachers are also getting ready.

First-time school teacher Macey Thompson is excitedly preparing for each of her first-graders.

"Of course, I'm anxious about being exactly what they need, but I know each one of my students is going to be placed in my classroom for a reason," Thompson said.

Recently, Alabama held its annual Back to School Tax-Free Weekend to help shoppers across the state with buying school supplies. According to the Alabama Retail Association, more than 300 cities and counties throughout the state waived their local taxes.

The National Retail Federation Survey for 2018 estimated nationally parents would spend almost $700 on back to school shopping. But, what about teachers?

Thompson has been getting her Chilton County classroom ready to support her students and says she's easily spent around $1,000 of her own money buying necessary materials to help her students succeed.

"We've spent a good deal on trade books, shelving material, classroom décor, and storage," Thompson added.

Thompson says teachers could use more support to help fund their classrooms, which is why she chose to use crowdsourcing website, Donors ChooseDonors Choose is a non-profit organization that allows individuals to donate to projects for public school classrooms.

"My Donors Choose project involved wobble chairs," Thompson explained. "I requested six wobble chairs to use at my small group table. Many students have difficulty remaining still in traditional classroom chairs the duration of the school day. The wobble chairs allow for small movements, and I am hopeful the chairs will help at least one student be more successful in my classroom,"

Thompson said she decided to use Donors Choose because she wanted to be able to bring something unique to her classroom but knew she couldn't afford to purchase the chairs on her own.

"I had seen many other educators use the program and be successful," Thompson said.

Because of Donor's Choose's matching program, Thompson's project was fully-funded within one week of it being published to the site.

"I received my wobble chairs within two weeks of my project being fully-funded. I will have the chairs assembled and waiting for my students before they ever walk into my classroom," Thompson added.

Thompson is not the first educator in the River Region to have projects funded by sites like Donors Choose. This is becoming a popular fundraising tool for educators and school systems have begun adopting policies to help educators achieve their fundraising goals.

In Montgomery, Elmore, and Autauga Counties, school officials say the project must be submitted in writing and approved by the school's principal before the project can be established on any website or social media.

"We seek to be very organized and thorough in our process to ensure that our students and staff are able to obtain the items they seek, while at the same time ensuring that the items sought will indeed add to the education environments and stay within board policies and state/federal laws," Elmore County Board of Education Chief Financial Officer Jason Mann said.

In Autauga County, the school system is working on a policy to establish correct procedure when it comes to crowdsource funding. As of now, Donors Choose is the only source allowed within the school system because it is a project-based site and does not allow for monetary donations.

"We want to help but we want to do it in the right way," Autauga County Board of Education Chief Financial Officer Alisa Benson said.

Benson also said the school system holds an annual financial training course for school administrators and faculty to better understand funding procedures.

When it comes to pupil expenses, school systems do receive allocated money from the state, but often it isn't enough to meet all classroom material needs.

"We are constantly looking into ways to bring more revenues into the system so that we can provide the best tools and learning environments for our students and faculty members," Mann said.

For educators like Thompson, crowdsourcing sites like Donors Choose are making it possible to make up where the state leaves off.

"I definitely see myself using Donors Choose in the future," Thompson said. "The organization is user-friendly and does not take much time to complete a request. Donors Choose makes it possible for teachers to provide their students with resources each child deserves."

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