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Website Provides Direct Hookup Between Schools and Donors

October 27, 2005|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A new form of school philanthropy hit Los Angeles this week: a website where teachers post requests soliciting donations for classroom field trips, books and supplies that allows people across the nation to choose which campus charity to contribute to.

The 5-year-old site, www .DonorsChoose.org, has raised more than $4 million for schools in New York, Chicago and South Carolina and other states.

It opened to schools in the Los Angeles, Compton, Inglewood and Hawthorne districts this week, with financial help from Robert Daly, former chief executive and chairman of Warner Bros., and singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, who heard about the program and decided to bring it to Southern California. It is expected to expand soon to other districts in Los Angeles County.

"Our vision is that all Los Angeles public school students, especially those from low-income families, will one day not too long from now have the materials and experiences they need to learn," said Charles Best, founder of the website, which recently received grants from Bank of America and won the Amazon.com Nonprofit Innovation Award.

Promoters held a news conference Wednesday to announce the online philanthropy effort.

Educators say the site is especially important to California schools, particularly after years of state education budget cuts.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has cut more than $1 billion in spending over the last three years, and students and teachers have felt many of those reductions.

Los Angeles area teachers have posted more than 40 requests, including $1,804 to fund field trips to see local museum exhibits about ancient civilizations; $281 for sports balls, a timer and a flag football set; and $395 for three telescopes and several astronomy books.

"For the past two years, as a sixth-grade math and science teacher in South L.A., I have experienced difficulties that have been out of my control, such as stopping [a] nearby drive-by shooting," one teacher wrote online in her request for money for watercolor brushes, papers, palettes and paint. "Yet there are also worthy and surmountable challenges, such as starting an art club."

Best, a former public school teacher in the Bronx, created DonorsChoose.org to raise money for his colleagues' classroom needs, which included SAT review books, lifelike dolls for health class lessons on teenage pregnancy, and history lecturers. Donors quickly funded those requests, and word quickly spread.

Since then, individuals across the country have funded 8,400 projects requested by more than 6,000 public school teachers for such materials as pencils, dictionaries for students' at-home use, cooking curricula and geological field trips.

Teachers must submit an essay detailing their need for the materials requested and how those supplies would contribute to student learning. Before classroom requests are posted online, website volunteers research and validate each one.

Once donors select programs to fund, they are notified how their money was used; teachers send photos and thank-you letters.

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