Online donations help Texas teachers


For some teachers, rounding up kindergarteners and timing the perfect visit to the science lab's incubator for the hatching could prove as challenging as herding wild fowl.

Instead, Battles logged on to the nonprofit website and sent out a plea for $400 for an in-class incubator.

Soon, she had the incubator and her students had the opportunity to continue their up-close egg watch throughout the school day.

Since that initial project two years ago, Battles and fellow teacher Yolanda Garza-Mendez have drummed up about $30,000 in donations for everything from anti-bullying books to laptops and iPads for their Southwest Independent School District classrooms.

In a time of sweeping school budget cuts, dozens of local teachers have begun to look outside the school system to fund classroom needs.

In 2011, contributors to have funded more than 190 local public school projects worth $100,000, said Kirk Smiley, one of the organization's directors.

Battles said, "Once the word got out, we all jumped on it."

Garza-Mendez, who said she hasn't felt the belt tightening taking place elsewhere in education because of the additional funding, said, "It's an excellent way to enhance the classroom."

A New York City teacher started the program for public school educators in 2000, and it went national in 2007, Smiley said. Since then, about 40 percent of public schools across the nation have had a teacher use the site to fund a project, he said.

The nonprofit particularly hopes to assist high-need schools and labels them as "high poverty" on the site. The designation is determined by a campus' free and reduced-price meal participation.

Corporations have begun to chip in.

Horace Mann, a company that provides insurance for educators, has contributed $600,000 to projects across the country, and local agents help spread the word about to teachers.

Other online fundraiser options have popped up as well, such as, which relies on a daily-deal model to raise money for area causes that include schools.

On Monday, Dellview Elementary student Justin Arteaga, 7, filled in the letters "a" and "i" in the word "paint" as part of a vowel sound riddle game. The game is part of a $387 pack of literacy activities that contributors funded for the second-grade class last spring.

Arteaga and others in Robin Taylor's class at the North East ISD elementary school have also reaped benefits from writing and science activities funded through Taylor has raised nearly $4,700 through the site since 2009 -- a far cry from her days of scavenging through garage sales for class materials.

Public school teachers like Taylor post projects on the site, which remain visible to donors for up to five months before they expire. The teacher uses the site's online shopping cart to select the materials. After the donations roll in, the nonprofit orders the materials, ships them to the school and notifies the principal that the goods are on the way, Smiley said.

Though Taylor occasionally contributes to her own projects to push them to completion, she said many of her donors are anonymous. Other teachers said their family members or students' parents have chipped in.

"We have just a little limited supply of money for the classroom," Taylor said. "It's almost nonexistent. It's been my husband's paycheck supplying it before ("

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