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How Crowdfunding Could Save a Classroom

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It's 3 a.m. in Toronto, Ontario and the web development team is still working away on making improvements to the MyClassNeeds.ca website. Canada's newest crowdfunding platform, aimed specifically at K-12 classrooms, launched their beta test last week and has already begun accepting donations.

"There's still a lot of work to do," says Interim Executive Director, Dr. Michael Simmonds, "but it's great to see the site live and functioning after a lot of work."

The beta launch couldn't have come any sooner. Since putting out the word about the launch in late fall, applications have been pouring in from teachers across the country. "Right now we have applications from Vancouver Island to St. Johns, Newfoundland and almost everywhere in between. A survey of educators we conducted in February highlighted the need; however it's been overwhelming seeing all the applications. We've discovered that many schools have difficulty raising funds for classroom resources not covered by provincial budgets," adds Simmonds.

Some of the resources (field trips, technology, or simply, good reading materials), can make the difference between retaining and losing students' interest in the classroom.

Engaging students is something that Craig Morrison understands very well. He has been running an alternative school re-engagement program within the Toronto District School Board since 2009. At Oasis Skateboard Factory, students earn high school credits by running an entrepreneurial skateboard design business that focuses on street art and skateboard design. It's no surprise Oasis was named the "#1 Coolest School in the GTA" by the Toronto Star.

As successful as it is, the alternative program faces challenges. Oasis runs out of the Scadding Court Community Centre. The program is fully supported by the Toronto District School Board, but not being a neighborhood school means there are no usual community support mechanisms (i.e. bake sales or other fundraising events). In most neighborhoods, the local parent council meeting is a short distance away, but since Oasis students come from across the GTA the organizing of fundraising efforts becomes difficult.

In Saskatchewan, Jenna Waldorf faces a similar issue. She teaches in a rural school in Neilburg, Saskatchewan. The remote nature and small school size (180 students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12) makes fundraising challenging.

"Although small schools have a wonderful culture it is often harder for them to supply the students with the most up to date resources," says Waldrof. In support of her class she wants to update the school's science lab and augment her stock of old analog scales with more accurate digital models. She hopes "this will help students perform more accurate science labs, and teach them how to use modern equipment."

Providing a solid learning base is something that Peggy Fennemore does every day. She teaches a Kindergarten class in St. Johns, Newfoundland and is passionate about instilling a love of literature in her students. Her commitment is infectious and extends beyond the classroom:

"I am with my kinders for just a few hours each day, [but] many hours are spent outside of this time searching for, purchasing, and preparing developmentally appropriate resources that will engage each learner and make learning fun for all."

To help share her passion, Fennemore is requesting a set of levelled books (that correspond to various reading abilities or 'levels'). The great thing about her project is that the books would stay in her class and benefit students for years to come.

Long-term impact is also on Craig Morrison's mind. Back at Oasis, he's hoping to expand the Skateboard Factory program but he requires additional resources. His class needs screen printing equipment to bring their original graphic designs to life. Right now, Oasis uses borrowed screen printing studio space and their access to a screen printer is limited to only one or two days over the course of the school year.

"Having our own equipment would mean more opportunity for students to refine their printing skills and create professional level merchandise," says Morrison. It would also help the program get closer to being self-supporting, by selling their merchandise through an online shop and local retail stores.

To help Oasis reach their funding goal they have developed a number of incentives for donors. A $50 contribution will get donors Oasis stickers and buttons. Custom T-shirts produced on their new equipment will be presented to donors of more than $99.

If you appreciate fine, handcrafted art, Craig and his students will create a custom handmade skateboard -- for donors of $990 or more. Considering the beautiful work coming out of Oasis, it is well worth the donation.
You can find these teacher projects and other opportunities to help at www.MyClassNeeds.ca

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