Virtual supply closet: NJ teachers crowdsource funds for classroom projects
GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP — Erin Burns, a second-grade teacher at Glendora Elementary School, needed a few Chromebooks and accessories for her classroom. But the money for the items just weren't in the school district's budget.
So like a growing number of other teachers in the state's cash-strapped school districts, she logged onto a website called DonorsChoose.org, where the state's teachers already have raised more than $7.7 million in order to fund more than 12,600 projects.
For Burns, the site helped raised enough money — $1,900 — for six Chromebook laptops and headsets. She received her equipment in just days.
"It blew my mind, to be honest with you, how many people reached into their pockets and donated to this," Burns said. "You don't know who's willing to help unless you ask."
Burns received donations from people she's never met or known, and she made it a point not to solicit funds from parents of her students.
"For us to be able to have these six Chromebooks in our classroom, and a whole technology center to be able to be used at any time during the day — it's pretty special," she said.
According to the site, every donor receives a thank you letter from the teacher, as well as photos from the classroom.
Every donor is encouraged to devote up to 19 percent of their donation to the site, but that allocation is optional.
Hundreds of active New Jersey projects are currently listed on DonorsChoose, looking for amounts ranging from less than $200 for board games in Sicklerville to $9,230 for Chromebooks in Paterson.
New Jersey third-grade teacher Noelle Prete is still a couple hundred dollars away from fully funding a project that would add to her classroom's books for book clubs and read-aloud sessions.
Her list includes multiple copies of such kids' classics as "James and the Giant Peach," "Matilda" and "How to Eat Fried Worms."
"A lot of times I'll buy my own equipment and books... and so that gets expensive after a while," said Prete, who asked that her school district not be identified for this article.
Teachers in New Jersey have raised $1.1 million in 2016 through DonorsChoose, according to the site. The state's highest-earning year came in 2014 with a funding total of $1.7 million.