Terra Sigillata

I’ve been a bit too quiet on my end during this third year of ScienceBlogs.com participation in the October Blogger Challenges for DonorsChoose.org. DonorsChoose.org was launched by Charles Best, a Bronx schoolteacher who recognized that public schools around the US were underfunded, particularly in districts with a high abundance of poverty:

Charles Best leads DonorsChoose.org, a simple way to fulfill needs and foster innovation in public schools. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit proposals for materials or experiences that their students need to learn. Any individual can search project proposals by areas of interest, learn about classroom needs, and choose to fund the project she/he finds most compelling.

Recognition of DonorsChoose.org includes the Nonprofit Innovation Award given by Stanford Business School and Amazon.com, a Global Technology Laureate from the TECH Museum of Innovation and Microsoft, the 2006 Social Capitalist Award and selection by Ashoka. National media such as Oprah Winfrey and The New York Times have profiled DonorsChoose as “the future of philanthropy.”

I’ve really got to thank San Jose State University Prof Janet Stemwedel for bringing DonorsChoose to our attention back in June 2006. She has corralled a good number of us bloggers to appeal to you, dear readers, every year to pick from amongst the projects we have each selected in our own individual challenges. We at Terra Sig have been incredibly fortunate as our donor-to-pageview ratio has been among the highest at this blog collaborative, attesting to your incredible generosity, especially that of a couple of tremendously thoughtful and supportive philanthropist-readers.

So this year we called our challenge the “More Abel to Do Science” challenge. Why? Because we have selected a number of projects requesting some very, very basic supplies to get students up to the point that they could actually even start to think about more complex scientific topics.

For example, my heart was broken last year when I read of a project for students a mere 35 miles from a major state capital who needed paper and folders – yes, paper and folders – because their property tax base for school funding was hampered by a city poverty rate of 34%.

What in the hell kind of country do we live in when kids don’t even have paper to write on in a public school?

You want to know something else? I received a thank-you packet from that teacher with 20 handmade cards from the class. One of the kids wrote that they wished they had the money to give something back to me.

The walk back from the mailbox was a bit teary-eyed that day.

PharmKid wanted to do something for the kids she saw on the internet when I was putting together last year’s challenge. So, we picked a project for a school in our town that was less fortunate than the district in which she goes to public school. The request was for an overhead projector cart. Not an overhead projector. A freaking cart, so the teacher could keep all of the teaching materials together, didn’t have to lug the projector around and find an extension cord, etc., plus some markers for the kids to write on the overhead transparencies about their math and other work. We seeded this project with some PharmBucks and others of you kicked in to fund it completely.

Here was the thank-you letter we received from the teacher:

Dear [Pharmboy Family],

How can I thank you enough for your generous gift? I’m sending their notes and pictures as a start, but I would also like to share a bit of how amazing and resilient these children are each and every day. Your donation helped me show my appreciation for them, so I hope you get a hint of their humor, intelligence, and kindness in their writing.

I wish I could send you the feeling the room had when I first shared with the students the overhead cart. The looks on their faces were priceless. There were gasps, and looks of surprise and pure awe that someone would be kind enough to donate to our class. They could barely contain their excitement and it showed through their faces and their wiggling bodies all gathered together around the cart.

The most thankful and appreciative moment came when I asked if anyone had any questions. Immediately, 21 hands went up in the air. The question racing through everyone’s mind was: Who was it? Who was kind enough to donate to them? They were amazed and puzzled as to how someone could be so kind to give them something our classroom so desperately needed.

After discussing and showing the overhead cart, I let each of them take a turn coming up to the overhead to assist in some way with our activity. Some of the pictures I took are from the first moments after they started taking turns using the overhead. You can see the looks of complete contentment on their faces, as they became enthralled in their math work, eagerly anticipating their turn to use the overhead. The room was silent for about ten minutes before everyone’s curiosity overcame them. The students became so focused on their math. They are very motivated by the opportunity to share their work with the class by writing or showing their work on the overhead.

Before this wonderful donation we could not use the overhead that often because I had to set it up on the table and even then it wouldn’t project high enough to shine on the screen. It was difficult to see and often, more work than it was worth. This is a teacher’s dream come true. I want to personally thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to bring pure joy into these young lives. The unforgettable faces showing their deepest gratitude will forever be engraved on my heart.

Our deepest thanks and warmest wishes,
Ms. [B] and 2nd graders

I’m not saying to do this because you get something out of it. The satisfaction of helping some kids who might not otherwise have opportunities should be good enough, right?

But think about this: PharmGirl showed me this morning that the average individual contribution to the Obama/Biden campaign has been $86. Yes, it would be incredible if the support of 3.1 million people leads to the election of this ticket, an outcome of historical proportions. But that 86 bucks also disappears into the abyss of a half-second of an Obama ad in a very low-cost market.

With 86 bucks to a DonorsChoose project, you’d also get you this kind of personalized feedback above and 20 or more handcrafted thank-you cards and/or pictures of what your $86 has done directly, perhaps paving the way for other visionaries or, at the very least, kids who are prepared to be engaged citizens in their community.

Think about it and, if you are so inclined, take a look at the projects we have selected this year and send a few doubloons to kids who really need it. If you don’t see a project that resonates with you, look at those of other science bloggers or just simply do a search in your community for something you think would help locally.

Many, many thanks to all of you who have donated this year (including PharmMom and Stiefvater, Barn Owl, and our mid-America megadonor) and each of the previous two years.

Save your e-mail receipts from DonorsChoose and send them to our Seed Media Group overlords:

We’ll be giving away 50 Seed mag subscriptions and about 15 or so other prizes from an assortment of mugs, laptop covers and USB drives. Each Friday we’ll choose winners for a third of the prizes. In addition, there will be one ‘grand prize’ at the end of the drive, of an iPod Touch. For your readers to enter the drawing, all they need to do is forward their donation confirmation emails to scienceblogs@gmail.com.

Other bloggers are also offering personal gifts or other incentives to donors such as getting tattoos, doing naked dances down Philadelphia’s Broad St, T-shirts, etc. I can’t offer another vasectomy so if anyone has a suggestion for something they’d like me to offer for donations of $86 or more, suggest away in the comment thread below.