Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gates Foundation & Stephen Colbert Team Up to Support Teachers Looking to Fund Innovative Educational Ideas that Prepare Kids for College Success

In my new role as a Technology Innovation Manager I have been working furiously on writing three grants that will provide funding for schools across Manhattan to receive support in educating innovatively with 21st Century tools. The grants are $700,000 each per year for three years. If funded these grants will definitely support schools in implementing innovative practices, however, what I, and the schools, need to keep in mind is that these grants are just a piece of the puzzle and while they will certainly support schools in using technology to enhance teaching and learning, they will need to find ways to supplement and grow upon the opportunities provided by the grant.


At a classroom level when I was a teacher, library media specialist, staff developer, and literacy coach one of my favorite and most effective ways I found to support the innovative practices I was trying to implement was DonorsChoose.org. At DonorsChoose.org there is a simple process where you can write a grant for what you want funded and philanthropists looking to contribute can select your project and fund it in exchange for a follow up narrative and photos sharing with them how they helped impact student achievement.


Now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is putting some additional muscle behind the organization with something called the “Double Your Impact” program to fund 50 percent of teachers’ classroom projects aimed at promoting college readiness among students in high-need and underserved urban and rural public schools. I see this as a great vehicle for teachers at schools who are awarded grants and trying to supplement their efforts in using technology to educate innovatively.


I was honored to be invited to the program announcement this week at an event moderated by TV personality Stephen Colbert, a DonorsChoose.org board member (Sadly, work related to the looming grant deadline prevented me from attending). “Double Your Impact” will be funded with a $4.1 million investment from the Gates Foundation and is expected to support more than 17,000 classroom projects, touching more than 300,000 students across the nation. By enabling DonorsChoose.org to contribute half of the required dollars, the grant helps to incentivize individual “citizen philanthropists” to donate and accelerate the process of fully funding projects.


“Teachers across the country are creating classroom projects and lessons that engage kids in creative and innovative ways. Generous citizen philanthropists, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s invaluable support, are making sure they have the materials needed to spark the passion for learning,” said Charles Best, founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org. “This grant helps us drive attention and contributions to projects aimed at preparing kids to succeed in college.”


“DonorsChoose.org supports teachers in a truly powerful way—engaging the public in support of teachers and the innovative energy they bring to the classroom,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of education at the Gates Foundation. “We hope this partnership will give citizen donors an added incentive to support projects that empower public school teachers to help prepare students to graduate ready to succeed in college and beyond.”

“DonorsChoose.org allows people from all walks of life to help specific classrooms directly,” said Stephen Colbert. “As I endeavor to protect our children from bears, DonorsChoose.org is protecting public school kids from classrooms that lack the materials necessary to rigorously prepare them for college.”

While many organizations raise funds for basic school supplies, the DonorsChoose.org model supports specific classroom projects that are submitted and designed by any public school teacher in the U.S. to further defined educational goals. Under the “Double Your Impact” initiative, the requests eligible for 50 percent funding from DonorsChoose.org through the grant from the Gates Foundation are those that promote college-readiness. Such projects include student trips to college campuses as well as classroom books, SAT/ACT preparation materials, and other resources that strengthen the learning experience.

“DonorsChoose.org has helped provide the additional materials, such as college essay prep books, that can help teachers like me create programs that are targeted to the unique needs of our students and get them really excited about learning,” said Elizabeth Smith, a teacher at Manhattan Bridges High School where the announcement was made. “My goal is to create opportunities for my students to learn in innovative, inspiring ways. This has made all the difference in what our students believe they can achieve.”


To date, 88,000 public and charter school teachers have used the site to secure funding for $30.3 million in books, art supplies, technology, and other resources that their students need to learn. Visit www.DonorsChoose.org, and help your class join the 1.8 million students who have already benefited from the support provided by DonorsChoose.org.

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