Facebook group lends teachers a helping hand
on October 9, 2009
When Sarah Pratt began her first year teaching 6th grade math and science at Roosevelt Middle School she spent hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket to get her classroom ready for her new career. When she was still doling out her own cash in her third year, the 24-year-old jumped at the chance to join a new Facebook group that connects Oakland teachers with potential donors to help get them the classroom supplies they need.
Pratt said that after using the service she received a $50 gift certificate to Target from an Oakland parent, which she used to buy glue sticks, scissors, and filing supplies. She also asked for an Elmo projector and interactive science notebooks, which are more expensive items, Pratt said, “but that was just being hopeful.”
While she wasn’t able to get all the supplies in the quantities she needed, she said every bit counts.
The Facebook group, which was founded by parent and PTA member Holly Kernan, allows teachers to post their supply needs on the community board and lets donors post items they have on hand that teachers might find useful. Kernan monitors the requests to make sure teachers’ needs are met. ”I just got frustrated with how teachers struggle to keep snacks and paper and glue sticks in their classes,” said Kernan, whose 10-year-old daughter attends Crocker Highland Elementary, “so I thought maybe using a social media could connect people. That’s really all there was to it. Just a tiny little thing to connect people who might not otherwise meet.”
Pratt said that groups like the one on Facebook are far more useful than other donation Web sites like donorschoose.com. “It can just be really labor intensive to get basic supplies,” she said. “And with donorschoose.com there are added costs. If you request supplies that add up to $350, it really ends up being $450.” Donorchoose.com is a donation website where teachers from all over the country can request supplies for specific projects and potential donors can scroll through and donate to as many projects as they want. Once the listing reaches the amount it needs, teachers are sent the supplies.
Pratt’s donor was Kirsten Williams, whose two children are 3rd and 5th graders at Crocker Highland. Williams said she felt inspired to donate after finding out about the group from Kernan. “I felt like we’re fortunate that we live in a neighborhood with good schools and it got me thinking about schools in other areas,” she said.
“There’s never enough money,” Williams said, “even though I know it’s one of the biggest budgets in the state, schools are always in need.”
For another Roosevelt Middle School teacher, Alexancra Arsula, out-of-pocket spending is the norm. “I’ve spent about $500 so far this year,” said the 23-year-old teacher. Arsula received 140 binders from a donor through the Facebook group this fall.
“It’s an awesome resource,” she said.
Budgets are managed site to site, according to Michael Moore, who heads the procurement department for the Oakland Unified School District. Moore said approximately $3 million was spent on classroom supplies last year, which was about $100,000 less than the year before. But, Moore said, it’s hard to tell if the decreased spending on supplies is directly associated with budget cuts or if the school just decided to put the money elsewhere. OUSD negotiates with various supply companies like OfficeMax and Dell, which give the district discounts of as much as 70 percent. “If a glue stick costs a dollar,” Moore said, “we’re probably getting it for 33 cents.”
Theresa Clincy, the principal of Roosevelt Middle School, where Pratt and Arsula teach, said that while everyone is suffering from shrinking school budgets, Roosevelt has an advantage over other schools in the district because it has Title I status, a federally funded program which entitles the school to about $200 more a year per student.“Teachers aren’t expected to spend their own money but many do because they want to provide the best possible environment for their students,” she said.
Despite the good intentions of groups like Kernan’s Facebook group, the substantial discounts the school districts receives, and the Title I status at her school, Pratt, who, recently had to start forgoing her planning period to help teachers manage burgeoning classroom sizes, says it’s not enough. “Last year we had four math and science teachers and this year we only have three,” Pratt said, even though the number of students has remained roughly the same. In July, $4.5 billion was cut from the California school budget, and according to the California Department of Education, 27,000 California teachers were laid off.
Pratt says they felt the effects of those budget cuts immediately, and that she will stop teaching after this year. She plans to apply to masters in education programs at Berkeley and Stanford.
“It’s so emotionally and physically draining, once someone is burned out I truly believe they won’t be able to offer the kids what they need,” Pratt said. “And when you can’t offer them what they need you end up half-assing it and I don’t want to get that point. The kids deserve better than that.”
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