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Giving Thanks: My Experiences With DonorsChoose.org

By Alycia Zimmerman on November 23, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Thanksgiving is almost here, and as a teacher, my thoughts run to those who support me professionally in so many ways. From the people who take care of small details, like the parent who offered to sharpen all of my new pencils, to the major game changers, like the colleague who volunteered to co-teach classroom routines during my very first week teaching, I am constantly reminded that teaching is a communal activity.


DonorsChoose.org potentially extends the community of people who support my classroom to the entire nation. Like every one of you teachers, I spend so much money out-of-pocket for my students. (I owe a huge thank you to my generous, patient husband, who supports all of my “absolutely necessary” teacher purchases.) Nationally, teachers spend about a billion dollars each year for supplies. However, there is a limit to how far my wallet can stretch, and I am so grateful that donors through DonorsChoose.org supply the materials my students need that my school can’t provide.


What Is DonorsChoose.org?


Students are excited to check out some of the new books we received through DonorsChoose.org.



DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that was started in 2000 by a teacher at a public high school in NYC. Their motto, “Teachers ask. You choose. Students learn,” sums up their core mission. Teachers post project requests for anything you can imagine — books, art supplies, science lab equipment, musical instruments, field trips . . . just name it! “Citizen-philanthropists” donate any amount of money towards specific classroom projects through the website. After a project is fully funded, the supplies are sent directly to the teacher, and in turn, the teacher sends back thank-you cards from the students. And that’s it!

The approach is so simple: any public school teacher can set up an account in minutes and post a request. There’s no need to involve administrators, write formal grants, or hold fund-raisers. What I love about DonorsChoose.org is that it puts us, the teachers, in the driver’s seat in terms of getting the materials we know we need for our students.

As of this November, DonorsChoose.org has raised close to ninety-four million dollars for classrooms around the country. That’s five and a half million students reached by these donations. Wow, that’s a lot to be thankful for!


DonorsChoose.org Donations in My Classroom


So maybe you’re wondering why I’m blogging about DonorsChoose.org for Thanksgiving. Well, over the past five years, I’ve had more than twenty projects funded, and this has allowed me to provide some truly amazing experiences for my students, as well as to meet their basic academic needs. Here’s a look at a few of the DonorsChoose.org projects I’ve gotten funded.


Project: Off to the Guggenheim to Visit Kandinsky



We received funding to visit the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan for a guided tour and studio workshop program to enhance my interdisciplinary geometry and abstract art unit. My students became Kandinsky experts and created their own artwork inspired by Kandinsky’s art.


Project: Current Events for Curious Kids



Two years ago, my school stopped supplying student news magazines like Scholastic News and Time for Kids due to budget cuts. Thanks to a DonorsChoose.org grant, I’ve been able to keep current events in our curriculum with news magazines for the entire 3rd grade.


Project: In Need of Books: Geronimo Stilton Is the Best!



Back in 2009 when the Geronimo Stilton series first hit the shelves here, my students were obsessed with the books. My school did not have any copies of the series, so I bought half a dozen books for my class. Soon, my students were literally begging me to get more books in the series for them to read. Thank goodness some very generous donors stepped up to the plate and provided 25 Geronimo Stilton books for my students. Over two years later, these are still some of the most-borrowed books in my classroom.


Project: Help Our Urban Elementary Garden


Of all the DonorsChoose.org-funded projects, our garden has probably had the biggest impact on my students and the entire school community. Over the past three years, we’ve reclaimed a small dirt yard in front of my school, transforming it into a flourishing organic vegetable garden. Donors have bought us everything from raised beds, seeds, and shovels to books and science lab kits focusing on germination and seed collection. My students are huge beet and Swiss chard enthusiasts thanks to this garden, and now everyone in the community is stopping by to ask how to get involved. (I’ll blog more about our garden in the early spring.)

This is just a sampling of what DonorsChoose.org has done for my students over the years. Of course, you can read thousands of success stories on their website, too.


Ready to be Thankful, Too?


Teachers, if you are not currently using DonorsChoose.org to help meet your students' needs in the classroom, I highly encourage you to give it a try. It is an easy, rewarding way to provide those extra special experiences for our students that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Whether it’s a special art project, a new book series, or an engaging math game, you can get what you need quickly.

The first step is to visit their website and create a teacher account. After that, the website walks you through all of the steps necessary to create a project. If you’re stricken by writer’s block, visit some other projects for inspiration. You’re more than welcome to adapt proposal language from any of my funded projects, too. And if you get stuck and need help with any part of the process, leave me a comment below, and I’ll try my best to walk you through it. (Teachers who are already using DonorsChoose.org, please inspire us with stories about what you’ve received for your classroom.)

I want to end with my most heartfelt thanks to every single person who has helped me along in this profession, and thus touched my students’ lives. To my mentors and role models, my inspiring colleagues, my supportive family, the generous DonorsChoose.org donors, and my students and their families, I am truly blessed with your love and support. Happy Thanksgiving!





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