This year marks the 20th anniversary of DonorsChoose, the nonprofit classroom funding site for public school teachers. Twenty years ago, our founder Charles Best started our platform out of his Bronx history classroom. We’re hopping in the time machine to celebrate two decades of awesome and innovative teachers, and get inspired by teacher tenacity throughout the years. (Read about teachers from 2005–2009, teachers from 2010–2014, and teachers from 2015–2019.)
DonorsChoose founder Charles Best with his high school history students in 2000
In our “20 Years, 20 Teachers” series, we’ll be featuring one teacher who had their first projects funded in each year of our history. To get started we’re going way back before iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter to the era of Y2K, bedazzled jeans, and spending $1.26 per gallon of gas.
The first iteration of www.donorschoose.org in 2000Blazing Trails and Helping Students Do the Same
Ms. Carrasquillo was teaching US History at Wings Academy in the Bronx in 2000, and her students had their eyes set on college. These aspiring first-generation college students were hungry for information on the SATs, application essays, and financial age — but with the internet still nascent, information wasn’t always easy to find, and definitely wasn’t free.
Luckily just a few classrooms down, Charles Best was hard at work launching DonorsChoose out of his history classroom. Charles asked Ms. Carrasquillo to take the plunge and request resources through this brand new platform. Her request was simple: a classroom library filled with books to help students get ready for college.
“Each and every one of these books was invaluable to me,” Ms. Carrasquillo said looking back. “My students were completely unfamiliar with this process. I was able to walk them through the college application journey. Even if they all didn’t end up attending college, they were armed with information. That’s priceless.”
New Worlds are Just a Subway Ride (and a DonorsChoose Project) Away
In 2001, the AIDS crisis and its effects were still being felt throughout New York. Mr. Loewy, also teaching at Wings Academy in the Bronx alongside Charles, worked with a group of students to coordinate a school team for New York’s AIDS Walk. Mr. Loewy wanted to thank his students who went above and beyond raising money and awareness for the cause. At the time, RENT was on Broadway, and the rock musical about living with AIDS in lower Manhattan felt like an opportunity for his students to connect with their cause in a different way. Not only did RENT speak to the topics that students just dedicated time to supporting, but it would also give students the chance to see a new side of their city.
From the outside, NYC might seem like a small place. But when you live there, you know that the Bronx can feel lightyears away from Times Square. Many of Mr. Loewy’s students hadn’t had the chance to leave their neighborhood before their group trip to Times Square; Mr. Loewy shared, “One student in particular said to me after the show, ‘I feel like I’ve been to another world! It was beautiful!’”
From Lecture Hall to Laboratory
Science class should be filled with beakers, microscopes, test tubes, pipettes, and lab coats, but for many young scientists across the country, those pricey and fragile pieces of equipment aren’t available. When Mr. Julien was teaching with a tight school budget at Bronx High School for Writing/Communication Arts, he knew he needed to find more opportunities for his students to get hands-on with science — so he turned to DonorsChoose.
Over 15 years ago, Mr. Julien had a humble start on DonorsChoose requesting simple magnets, lightbulbs, and wires to help his students learn about magnetism and electricity. Since then, he’s used DonorsChoose to fund earthworms, sensors for real-time data collection, laptops for virtual investigation, spectrum tubes, conductivity testers and so much more, transforming his classroom from a lecture hall to a world of inquiry and experimentation.
In a recent project requesting resources to test the effects of acid rain on food, Mr. Julien shared the impact on his classroom: “When the students saw the material, they were eager to do the lab. Engagement level tends to be higher when students do labs because they feel like scientists. You can see the excitement in their faces.”
A Journal to Draft Your Future
Some of Mr. Ohl’s favorite resources to request are Moleskine notebooks. He gives them to students each year as a treasured space to explore and express themselves — and it’s kicked off a chain of events getting students passionate about writing!
One student used her Moleskine to write poetry and had a poem selected for publication in a national book of poetry. Mr. Ohl turned to DonorsChoose again to request copies of the book in which her poem was published to share with students, and her peers couldn’t have been more inspired.
Mr. Ohl shared how great the moment was for him and his students: “To see her poem in a nationally published journal was one of the most memorable moments of my career. Students at our school were so inspired by her poem being published it has created a whole new wave of young writers who are now pushing themselves to go farther.”
Like many teachers, Mr. Ohl understands that giving students the skills and space to express themselves is instrumental for educational success and emotional well being. And he knows it’s a skill that reverberates outside the classroom.
Support the Teacher, Support the Students
Alongside the hearty stock art supplies she’s received for her classroom since her first project in 2004, Ms. Brown has used DonorsChoose to invest in herself as a teacher — and that investment has paid dividends for her students.
After attending an arts education professional development conference, Ms. Brown came back to her students full of energy and inspired to take her art room in a new direction. Instead of instructing students through art lessons, Ms. Brown decided to go “Full Choice,” an art education tactic that allows student artists to lead the charge and choose how to express themselves, with teacher support along the way.
Not only was the change a success for her regular art students, but it also allowed her to turn her art room into a place of comfort and joy for a student with special needs.
“One student was recently placed on a behavior plan and can earn breaks in my room working with the Legos or engaging in a project. He feels safe in my room and the extra time in the art room helps him focus and get through his day without issue.”
On Wednesday, September 16, starting at 7AM EDT, donations to all classroom projects will be doubled in celebration of the DonorsChoose 20th Anniversary. Thank you to the donors, partners, and educators who’ve made these past two decades possible.