Looking to help teachers help kids? Here's your chance
Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 10:20 p.m.
When Lauren Smith arrived in her classroom at Metcalfe Elementary as a first-year teacher last fall, "We had absolutely nothing," she said.
No lined paper, no crayons, no scissors, no rug where students could sit and listen to Smith read a story — none of the supplies that kindergarten teachers need every day of the school year.
Through an Internet crowd-funding site, Smith was able to raise money for enough supplies to get through the year, and it made all the difference, she said.
To help teachers get the help they need, the Alachua County Education Foundation has rolled out its own crowd-funding website, called Find It and Fund It, at www.finditfunditflorida.com/alachua.
The website operates similarly to online fundraising sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo, where users post a monetary need and donors can finance the projects.
Unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, though, only teachers can use Find It and Fund It to solicit money, which is a statewide initiative of the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations.
Also, unlike the other sites, there's no deadline for teachers to raise money through the site, said Alachua County Education Foundation executive director Judy Boles.
"Hopefully, they'll fund it quickly," she said, but teachers are responsible for getting the word out about their projects.
Donors can give as little as $1, and teachers can ask for up to $1,500 for a single project or various supplies. Boles said the Education Foundation will distribute money to schools as the donations come in.
Find It and Fund It is a less complicated, less-paperwork alternative to writing large grants for teachers who need a relatively small amount of money for a project or classroom materials, Boles said.
"Anything to help a teacher, I'm all for it," said Smith, the kindergarten teacher, who applied for nearly the maximum amount in interactive reading materials, teaching resources and tempera paint.
Especially in kindergarten, she said, students go through a surprising amount of materials every week, which schools don't have the money to replenish.
Last year, Smith said, she received a $186 stipend from the state to put toward buying materials. This year, the stipend is about $265.
Almost always, teachers dig into their own pockets to cover the cost of supplies, and the total could end up in the thousands.
"Yes, we get all of our summers off, but a lot of our money goes right back into our classroom," Smith said.
Find It and Fund It went live in Alachua County last week, and already 14 teachers have posted needs on the site, ranging from a low of $65 for an easel in a Newberry Elementary art class to $1,500, the maximum, for robotics supplies at Mebane Middle School.
Two teachers asked for $475 each to buy Lumens Ladibug cameras, which magnify anything underneath it and project it onto a wall or whiteboard.
"It's definitely a resource that could be used in every subject, in every part of the day," said Erica Coyne, who teaches fifth grade at Alachua Elementary.
The cameras would save teachers a lot of time in preparing lessons, and are more versatile than PowerPoint presentations, she said.
Lelia Powell, a first-grade teacher at Waldo Community School, is asking for $800 to take all 60 first-graders to see "A Christmas Carol" at the Hippodrome this winter.
Powell said the $12 ticket was difficult for many families to scrape together last year. But in a depressed area, she said, it's even more important for children to be exposed to the arts at a young age.
"Many of our kids don't get to go anywhere, much less to a theater to see the fine arts," she said. "I think that kids really need to be well-rounded. I think they miss a lot of important milestones in childhood when they don't have the chance to sing and laugh and play and do all of those things."
At Mebane Middle, science teacher Tim Hinchman hopes to do more than teach — he wants to inspire his eighth-graders to have fun learning.
Hinchman is asking for $1,500 for a robotics kit, a Lego set (the same kind used by NASA engineers when planning rover designs) and raw materials like sheet metal and plywood for building a real-life Iron Man suit.
It's difficult for teachers to get money for projects like that when schools are just trying to make sure every classroom has textbooks, Hinchman said. But with this project, he hopes to give his students an opportunity to have fun learning.
"The kids will always remember it," he said. "And I want them to remember back and think fondly on (middle school), because I think most people don't."
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.