Monday, March 19, 2012

DonorsChoose Is An Education Miracle

Twelve years ago, Charles Best came up with an idea during lunch in the teachers' lounge at a public high school in the Bronx. He and his colleagues were talking about books that they wanted their students to read, field trips they wanted their students to experience, and art supplies that they needed.

But like many special programs dreamed up by teachers every year, these great ideas would never go beyond the lunchroom. Their school, like so many across the nation, didn't have the budget to support their dreams or the dreams of their students.

Except one dream, which some people now consider the Best of all. 

Like many teachers, Best sensed that there were many more teachers in distressed schools who needed help, and that there were many more people who would like to help distressed schools. So he created a website called, which directly connects individuals who want to help to the teachers and students who need it.

Today, DonorsChoose has raised more than $86 million that has fulfilled 210,000 projects and directly helped more than 5.1 million students in the United States. But even so, the real magic behind the success of has very little to do with the size, scale, and scope of the website.

The projects that are funded represent the best in giving on the smallest of scales. Individual teachers submit proposals for their projects, which are vetted by DonorsChoose, and then funded directly by individuals. The needs, ideas, locations, and projects are as varied as the benefactors.

Sometimes $20 is all they need to make their dream come true. Here are just three project examples, all of which have been funded.

Literacy. The teacher requested books with folktales from various countries so her students could use them to learn reading, writing, listening, traditions, and cultural awareness. After learning about the folktales, the children used index cards and markers to create their own.

Science. The teacher came up with the idea to test various soil samples around their school to determine the optimal growing conditions for various fruits and vegetables. Not only would the students learn science, but some of them could also apply gardening skills at home.

Arts. The teacher requested air dry clay, tools, and paints to create individual sculptures that move them beyond their paper instruction. Without the support of their art teacher, it would have been unlikely that his students would have been exposed to 3-D art in the second grade.

Not all of the supplies are related to special projects. Some cut to the core of distressed public school needs — classrooms that need new white boards, music rooms without instruments, students without pencils or paper to take notes. When they do have these basic materials, some of their notes are used to express their gratitude, tell donors how their gift made an impact, or even ask questions.

Wow! My teacher said that you were the one who gave her the books. The books are fun and exciting to read. Sometime my teacher will read half a book and make us wait until the next day to read the rest. I hate having to put the book down.

Sometimes when we read these books, our writing gets better. We have been working very hard on our writing this year because we have to take a writing test. The writing test is going to be hard. – Faith

Donations reinforce education as well as a legacy of giving. 

Students frequently write thank you notes to their donors (usually over a certain amount), and they often include illustrations or photos related to their project. The feedback provides insights on how appreciative the children are, not only for the materials but also because they are genuinely surprised people care about their education.

It's important for several reasons. Not only do the students receive the materials they need to learn, but many of these students may one day grow up to be education donors too. They will be adding to the growing number of people who share stories about why teachers are so important.

DonorsChoose has highlighted several of these stories on its YouTube channel, including Melody Hobson, Tom Brokaw, Phil Jackson, Bill Brady, and others. Alongside their testimonials are stories from teachers and sometimes students, all of whom have directly benefited from the program.

DonorsChoose By Charles Best Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick. 

At least once a month, Liquid Hip highlights good will efforts undertaken by people with big hearts. We don't score them. That belongs to you.

What is continually striking about DonorsChoose is that it isn't only Best and his team that are highlighted as people with big hearts. It is everyone else. The teachers, the donors, the students are all working together with the common goal of sharing their love for education — something that doesn't end with a donation but starts with one.

Over the years, has made its website increasingly intuitive, with filters that allow people to pick projects by location, subject, urgency, resources, ages, and other criteria. This enables donors to quickly find projects that appeal to whatever interests them. We've mentioned it before as part of the good will pick Waiting For Superman. is one of the solutions, one class at a time.
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