Letter from the Editor: A Lasting Gift

An amazing way to help our teachers.

It was the fall of 1964 and I was about to start fourth grade at a small elementary school outside Athens, Georgia. I was excited—and a little nervous—because my mom was about to start teaching there too. And fourth grade was divided into two sections—Mrs. Kessler and…Mrs. Glenn.

OMG, would I have my mom as a teacher?

A Baptist preacher’s wife until now, she had decided to go back to college at age 46 and earn her teaching degree. I never knew whether it was out of financial necessity or Mom had just decided to spell out her career goals to the reverend of the house.

Whatever the case, the school administrators—or perhaps Mom—decided it wouldn’t be a good idea for a parent to teach an offspring. So, I ended up in Mrs. Kessler’s class, and  honestly, I was a bit disappointed. Over the next few years, though, I saw Mom plenty around school. In the mornings she would stand by the door of her homeroom welcoming her students and I would pass by rather sheepishly, too embarrassed to shout “Hi, Mom!’’ But she would always smile at me and say, “Well, good morning, Barry!”

My mother taught for 20 years. Before she died of complications from Alzheimer’s in 2006, I sat with her numerous times talking about various things over the course of our lives. I never knew whether she understood what I was saying, but I do remember that I said this more than once:

“You were a great mom. And you were a great teacher.”

Frances Glenn would have turned 100 this year. I felt I should honor her in some way, certainly something more than a social media post and a photo from yesteryear. But how?

And then it came to me. I had heard of a crowdfunding website called DonorsChoose.org, where teachers, mostly at schools in low-income areas, ask for classroom items that their districts can’t or don’t provide, ranging from books to computers to special “wobble’’ seating for kids who can’t sit still. The site gained a measure of fame in 2015 when late-night TV host Stephen Colbert contributed $800,000 to fund every project in his home state of South Carolina.

So I started searching for projects in the Orlando area.  The first I came across was an elementary school teacher who needed stands for musical instruments so her pupils wouldn’t have to sit on the floor during performances. The next was a kindergarten teacher who sought computer tablets to help bring her students into the digital age. Then there was the third-grade art teacher asking for basic supplies like paper and markers. I gave to numerous projects, with my gift often matched by a contribution from a corporate donor. In some cases, I was able to provide the last bit of help to push a project over its goal.

The responses I received through the site were moving: “I am amazed at your generosity.’’ “Oh, my goodness, what a fantastic surprise.’’ But they were also troubling: I mean, how did we get to the point where teachers, the dedicated professionals who give our generations the building blocks of success in life, are so strapped for funds—and are amazed when people open their wallets?

Then, on March 27, Colbert dropped a bombshell on his Late Show: Ripple, a cryptocurrency startup company, had decided to fund every live DonorsChoose project in the country—$29 million worth.

A stunning development. But not surprisingly, the next day more than 16,000 new projects were posted. Which means, there is obviously great need among teachers. Go to the website and you will see it. And perhaps you will  choose to give.

I can say this: Donating through this site was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in a long time. As was seeing photos of students using the items that I and others had helped provide. And reading notes like this, from an Orange County teacher: “My students will be thrilled that someone thought enough of them and their abilities to help us achieve success.”

By the way, I searched DonorsChoose.org to see whether the elementary school I attended in Georgia had posted any projects, or if it still even existed. Yes, on both counts. And a teacher's effort to equip students with a series of laptops was caught up in the Ripple generosity spree. Congratulations to my old school!

And thanks, Mom. You may not have ended up being my fourth-grade teacher. But you taught me well.


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