Chevron’s Fuel Your School program expanded to King County this year, and few teachers were more excited than sisters Karen and Kathy Onorati. Together, Karen and Kathy have posted 126 projects that have been fully funded through DonorsChoose.org, receiving over $65,000 in classroom materials. I decided that we had to pull back the curtain and see what motivates these Seattle sisters and what has driven their family to be such a force for good within their community.
Eli: How did you get into teaching, and what’s it like to work in the same field as your sister?
I went to college to be a teacher. I did my student teaching in math and physical education at the middle school level. I loved that age, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards for me to stay at that level. My job was great, but I wasn’t fulfilled. So one summer I took enough classes to receive my elementary teaching certificate. I was placed in a classroom and have been there for the past 17 years.
As for my sister Kathy, teaching is her second career. She was jealous of the difference I was making with kids and wanted to do the same. Well, that might not be exactly why she chose to become a teacher, but I know she is making a difference with the 7th and 8th graders that she sees every day.
My road into the teaching profession is at the very least long. After graduation from high school I attended college and earned my Bachelors of Science degree in Business. I worked in retail management for the next sixteen years. As a retail manager I was given many opportunities to train (teach) others. When 9/11 happened it made me stop and analyze my life choices. In my heart of hearts I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, so the time had come to follow my heart. I left retail management and went back to school to earn my Master in Teaching degree in 2004. I have been teaching middle school science ever since.
Having followed my younger sister into the teaching profession defiantly has it benefits. When I first started teaching she was my sounding board, the ruler of acronyms (I had no idea what others were talking about: IEP, EBD, PCT?), and someone I could turn to when I had no idea what I was doing.
Eli: How did you first learn about DonorsChoose.org, and how long have you been using our site?
I first learned about DonorsChoose.org during the 2011-2012 school year, when a co-worker read online that Starbucks and Bill Gates were teaming up with Donorschoose.org to get needed materials into local classrooms. My colleagues and I jumped at this opportunity and I have been posting projects ever since.
I learned about DonorsChoose.org from my sister Kathy. One weekend in September, 2011, I started my Donors Choose journey. I asked for hands-on math materials. Less than a month later, I was using the materials with my 25 first graders thanks to CenturyLink’s half off offer, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and 16 kind donors. I still have these materials and use them in my classroom.
Eli: As ambassadors for Chevron’s Fuel Your School program and DonorsChoose.org this year, how have you helped your colleagues take advantage of this amazing opportunity?
As the ambassador of the Fuel Your School, I mentioned it in a staff meeting, personally talked to staff and emailed them about this wonderful opportunity. Well, to be honest, I emailed them quite a few times! I think they thought I was stalking them. I offered to help them write their proposals. A few of my colleagues took me up on it. One of my colleagues is asking for Kindle tablets. Another is asking for Chromebooks and math materials. A first year teacher is asking for everything a new teacher needs for her classroom. Our fingers and toes are crossed. As I am writing this, one of my colleague’s projects was just funded from Chevron! She is going to be receiving personal CD players and books on compact disks for her kindergarteners.
Who would have thought that I would become an ambassador! (I like the sound of Ambassador Onorati. I think I will use ambassador as my new title.) At Pacific Middle School I have made every opportunity to get needed materials into the hands of our students and staff a high priority. In addition to spreading the word to my fellow educators via email and in person, I hosted an after school DonorsChoose.org party (better known as “Come to the computer lab and I will help you put a project together”). In addition to promoting Fuel Your School to the staff, I am also promoting the program to our PTSA, caregivers, and community.
Eli: This was the first year that Fuel Your School has been in King County, and both of you had projects that were fully funded! What resources did you request? If Chevron’s Fuel Your School program comes back to King County next year, have you thought about what you would request?
My classroom received three Microsoft Surface Tablets with keyboards and headphones. This new technology has been used to read books, do math and will be used to publish writing skills.
Wow, I am so thankful for this year that I haven’t given next year’s Fuel Your School a thought! But since you are asking, I think I want to get hands-on science activities for my first graders. I want resources that will allow them to think and make meaning for themselves. I want experiments that they can take home and share with their families. I want them to get excited about science, so that when they are in middle school, they will understand most of the science behind the experiments. Hopefully, they will think back to first grade and remember how excited they were to learn.
For Fuel Your School I requested two class sets of ScienceSaurus at two different reading levels to use as references. The ScienceSaurus is a resource that will help students put the concepts together in a way that will benefit both my struggling readers and my advanced students.
I am already looking forward to next year’s Fuel Your School program, and currently I am leaning toward new microscopes, the materials needed to extract DNA from cheek cells, or basic materials such as pencils, notebooks, and paper for my students. When the time comes to create a project for Fuel Your School, you can bet that I will think of something.
Eli: Wow, both of your projects this year sound so engaging, and I bet your students are so thrilled to have access to these resources. If you could deliver one message to Chevron and the Fuel Your School team, what would it be?
The message I would like to convey to Chevron and the Fuel Your School team is that they have made a huge difference in the lives of children around King County and the United States. Their generosity is awe inspiring. Letting students know that you care enough to get materials they need to help them grow into successful adults is the best gift you can give.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Chevron for their willingness to give of their funds to help support not only my classroom but the hundreds and thousands of classrooms around the United States. No matter what challenges I face in the classroom, it is comforting to know that business such as Chevron are there to support our classrooms. Thank you so much!!!