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What do fairy dust and 75 new DonorsChoose.org teachers have in common?

In the last two months, Daniel Dickey, first year writing/debate teacher and book lender extraordinaire, helped more than 75 of his colleagues in Miami-Dade County post successfully funded projects on DonorsChoose.org.
I sat down with Mr. Dickey to find out what drives him.

Ali: We know you’re in your first year of teaching. What inspired you to get into the classroom?
Mr. Dickey: I am in the classroom because I deeply believe in the significance of education—and as a first-generation college student, I feel I am able to understand many of the academic setbacks my students are forced to face. I still remember the struggle of standardized tests and the drudge of homework.
Though I cannot relate to some of the societal and social stresses they endure, I can—with unyielding positivity—tell them that if they change their attitudes they can change their outcomes. Whether it is smiling on the gloomiest of days, or staying after school on a Friday for tutoring, I know—first hand—that an investment in education pays dividends.
I am inspired by and fortunate to teach 170 bright, beautiful teenagers that have committed—even if they don’t know it yet—to using education as a passport to a greater life.
Wow. What tips do you share with your students?
The first day of school I brought in all of my books and pretty much told the kids, “These are my books, you can check them out, you can borrow them, you can take them.” I said this because reading—and eventually writing—changed my pathway in life, and I genuinely felt, and still feel, that books can do the same for anyone.
In the community where I work, families are struggling to get food on the table, so of course books are going to take a back seat. But, if there is going to be academic achievement, there needs to be books in hands, in backpacks, on bus seats, wherever. I am convinced that if I can get them to read and fall in love with words, everything else will come.
How did you first start using DonorsChoose.org?
It was probably a month into the school year, and I was finding a lot of my soft cover books were coming back completely ripped and torn up. A lot of my books had disappeared, too, which is actually great! If my students want to steal something—steal a book—odds are they’re going to read it.
I saw the DonorsChoose.org link, which I saved to my favorites over the summer, and it just clicked! First I started requesting all the books I already had, thinking I could get additional copies. But then I got funded thanks to Kia’s Double Your Impact offer almost right away, and I thought, “This is amazing! I can transform my classroom. Why don’t people know about this?”
Do your students know about DonorsChoose.org?
I’ve definitely told my students about DonorshChoose.org. When the school year started, I told them that every time I got a paycheck, I would buy 10-20 books for our classroom lending library (I would have liked to buy more, but as a teacher I’m ballin’ on a budget). When I discovered DonorsChoose.org, I no longer had to spend so much of my own money.
When the first books I requested arrived in our classroom, I told the students, “Do you know how this happened? I wrote something.” I showed them my project, and I explained, “My first paragraph, where I speak about each of you, that’s my hook. My second paragraph, with the details, that’s my support. This is the same thing I’m trying to teach you guys—writing well is always important.” Students here know all about DonorsChoose.org. Kia and Chevron are loved in Miami-Dade right now!
You’ve successfully recruited over 75 teachers this fall. What inspired you to spread the word about our funding opportunities? What kinds of responses have you received from teachers who had never used DonorsChoose.org before?
Honestly, it was so invigorating and rewarding to get funded—It felt awesome!  As a teacher in the inner city, with schools that are severely underfunded, there are so many things you wish you had in the classroom that you’re not able to get— DonorsChoose.org has stepped in and begun to be a source for teachers to get the supplies they need.
Here’s how it started: I told a few friends and when they got funded, it was almost like I vicariously got funded through them. So from there I started sending out emails, posting about it in Facebook groups, and even hosted workshops about the organization at my school.
Once it blew up, I spoke to you and Hannah, and thought I could get 25 teachers. That was my “hairy audacious goal,” to borrow that phrase from you. When I got those 25, it was like “at this point, I’m not stopping—I’m going to get everyone.”  Now teachers that I don’t even know are coming into my class during lunch, asking, “Are you the guy who knows how to get us money? The guy that works for DonorsChoose.org?”
If you could post a project with a cost of $50,000 or more, what would you request for your students?
In my school, like most, the progress kids make during the school year begins to recede over the summer (summer slide). If I had $50,000, I would utilize that money for materials for an intense summer school program. I’m talking a rigorous, academically invigorating program that not only develops our students into scholars, but furthermore, showcases that transformational change is possible in any high school.
Alternatively, I would consider hiring a classroom mascot who would dress up as an apple and give out stickers and hi-fives and fairy dust and personal computers to all of my students. I think they’d like that—at least the computer part.
I like the mascot idea. Any last thoughts to share?
To DonorsChoose.org, Chevron, Kia, and all the private angel donors who made these resources possible for Miami-Dade County – thank you! I cannot express my gratitude enough. And… If Chevron decides to up their support to $1,000,000, I can definitely pledge to recruit another 75 teachers!

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