Jocelyn Benford, a second grade teacher at PS 261 in a low-income neighborhood in New York's Brooklyn borough, finds it frustrating how little money she is given to provide something as basic as pencils and paper for the year. "Even something as simple as copy paper. I have to provide my own copy paper," Benford said. "So anytime I send a letter home to parents I'm providing that copy paper."
She knows first-hand how expensive shopping for school supplies can be. When her daughter was a second grader, Benford spent nearly $150 on supplies for the year. "It's not possible for some of the parents because they're too busy or struggling financially."
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It's not just paper these teachers struggle to provide for their students. Melissa Farran, another PS 261 teacher, wanted to see an improvement on her class's deteriorating 50-year-old desks, so she looked to DonorsChoose for help.
"It's amazing. I put all of my (request for donations) up (on the site)," she said. "Kids get so excited when things come in and they know it's been donated. We can't wait to take pictures and write thank you notes to the donors."
DonorsChoose allows anyone to donate as little as a dollar to the project of their choice. Founder Charles Best started the organization when he was a 25-year-old history teacher in The Bronx, struggling to provide supplies he needed to make his lessons more effective.
"It just felt wrong that the kids I was teaching didn't have the same access to materials that I did when I was a student," Best said. "I saw first-hand that all schools are not created equal and the students shouldn't have to go without all of the materials that they need for a great education."
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Best wanted his class to read "Little House on the Prairie," but the school didn't have the funds to buy enough copies for the entire class. Best made photocopies of the chapters for his students until he realized that there must be someone out there who would want to help. Fourteen years later, Best's DonorsChoose has raised more than $250 million to help more than 12 million students.
The donations toward projects for Farran and Benford have totaled about $6,000. The gifts have enabled the students of PS 261 to have pencils, paper, iPads and even field trips.