- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Lindsey Dahl doesn’t turn to her school or her cash-strapped school district.

When the middle school teacher needs something for her classroom at Erie’s Wilson Middle School, she does what an increasing number of teachers do: She asks the community.

As of the beginning of the month, Dahl was one of 18 Erie County teachers who had active campaigns on DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding website dedicated to education. She is in charge of the S.T.E.M. lab, or science, technology, engineering and math, at the school, and is hoping to raise $688 to buy the tools her students need to revitalize the Wilson garden.

Another teacher at Wilson is working to get the heat in the greenhouse fixed. And still another, at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, secured a grant for seeds and mulch.

The horticulture students at Central Career and Technical School till the ground for experience. But Dahl’s students still need things like shovels, hammers and rakes. She can’t pay for them herself, and the Erie School District is facing a multimillion-dollar deficit for 2016-17.

That’s where DonorsChoose.org and other crowdfunding websites come in. New research by Erin McGarrity, a junior intelligence studies major at Mercyhurst University, found a sharp, unexpected local spike in the number of teachers turning to DonorsChoose.org in March to fund various projects.

“It’s anything from school supplies to technology for their classrooms, textbook subscriptions, magazine subscriptions,” McGarrity said.

A total of 83 new donation- based campaigns on various crowdfunding sites were launched in Erie in February, a slight increase from 79 in January. Seven percent of the new campaigns were launched on DonorsChoose.org, up from just 2 percent in January. GoFundMe.com continues to be Erie’s most frequently used donation-based crowdfunding platform, highlighting campaigns to fund a variety of efforts, including vacation and funeral expenses.

A total of 33 DonorsChoose.org campaigns were launched during McGarrity’s period of study, between August and March, raising more than $8,100. Ten new campaigns were launched in March alone, compared with one to five in typical months.

McGarrity is a research assistant for Kristan Wheaton, an associate professor of intelligence studies. He has a theory about the spike.

“My ‘spidey sense’ is tingling,” Wheaton said. “My intuition says it has to do with all the budget problems all the districts are facing.”

It’s true that districts across the commonwealth, having weathered a historic budget impasse, are hurting. But increasing use of crowdfunding platforms is a nationwide trend. Teachers at 70 percent of all public schools in America have created DonorsChoose.org campaigns, according to the site. As of Friday afternoon, donors had contributed more than $97 million in the 2015-16 school year — the first year the site expects to raise $100 million.

Some teachers have led professional development sessions on how to use the site, said Christopher Pearsall, senior director of communications and events for DonorsChoose.org.

More teachers are becoming aware of the site and that “they’re paying more out of their own pockets in many cases, especially in high-poverty schools, and trying to find creative solutions to help bridge the gap between what students need and what current resources they have available,” Pearsall said.

The site is a great resource, said Erin Masolette, a sixth-grade math teacher at Erie’s Roosevelt Middle School. She has funded several projects through DonorsChoose.org, including Scholastic magazines that present math problems in real world situations.

“My students struggle to see why we do math and the fact that math is actually everywhere in the world,” Masolette said. The magazines help, as do the dry erase boards and the buzzers for math review games also bought through donations.

Dahl’s campaign runs until June. If everything goes to plan, the students will be studying the life cycle of plants, choosing which vegetables to plant, and researching how to plant them. For some in the high-poverty urban school, it might be their first experience gardening, Dahl expects — and the hands-on connection to science and math that they need.

“It can be work,” Dahl said of running crowdfunding campaigns and applying for grants to help fund her classroom. “It can be disappointing because you don’t always get everything. But if you don’t try, you don’t get anything at all.”





Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com

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