When Ashley Phelan graduated from UNI and got her first teaching job, she was thrilled. She was following her passions, and now, she would be able to make a living doing what she loved.
“It’s nice to get to do a variety of things,” she said, “but it also has its challenges.” Ashley teaches high school English in North Linn Community School District. Because of the school’s small size, this means teaching Creative Writing, Public Speaking, Freshman English, Communications and even Yearbook.
While she enjoys the work, it didn’t take long for Ashley to encounter the harsh reality of teaching: she didn’t have the materials she needed.
Teachers in Iowa can’t require students to bring supplies that get used by the entire class, so things like dry-erase markers, hand sanitizer and tissues don’t make the school supply list. “During cold and flu season, we go through a lot of that stuff. We really need it,” Ashley said Without other options, she started buying those things for her classroom on her own.
Unfortunately, Ashley is not alone. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 94% of public school teachers do the same thing, spending an average of $479 in 2015.
Because teachers like Ashley are burdened with these costs from their first day on the job, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation has partnered with DonorsChoose.org since 2015. This national nonprofit, founded in 2000, allows teachers to crowdsource funding for supplies, projects and equipment. Donors can give to schools in their area, to teachers they know, or to any classroom with an unmet need.
The Community Foundation’s Fund for Educational Excellence, which provides the matching grants, was established in 1990 to support teachers in creative, innovative, and effective classroom projects. Currently, the fund offers $25,000 in matching grants through DonorsChoose.org.
“It is exciting to see how far the matching dollars can go in supporting students and teachers in Linn County,” said Rochelle Naylor, a Community Foundation Program Officer that oversees education and scholarship programs. “We’re so proud to partner with DonorsChoose.org and with donors who care about education.”
Ashley’s project, which was fully funded through this opportunity, helped her buy pencils, markers and other basic supplies. “It’s amazing to see the generosity that’s out there,” Ashley said. “Several of us in my school had projects funded through DonorsChoose.org, and businesses all over the county buy ads to support our yearbook.”
That generosity continues to grow. This year, the Community Foundation’s $25,000 matching grant was exhausted in less than two months. Over 100 projects were funded, reaching over ten thousand local students.
“I am so thankful for these donations,” Ashley said. “Every year I see families stressed about back to school shopping, but this year I know my students will have the materials they need.”
To view a summary of the Community Foundation’s Match—including projects, schools and number of students and teachers supported, click here.