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Google grant a boon to local teachers

Teachers look to private donations for supplies

A Google grant that funded more than 700 Bay Area classroom projects last month is starting to pay off. Hundreds of teachers who requested everything from books to violin strings and boxing gloves on the nonprofit charity website Donorschoose.org are getting their school supplies shipped to their schools, with Google picking up the tab.

Through Donorschoose.org, school teachers can request specific classroom supplies, and donors can directly fund the projects that inspire them. When the funding goals are met, the supplies are delivered and teachers keep donors up to date on how the money is spent.

The grant by Google last month partially or fully funded projects for 604 Bay Area teachers, including Claudia Avila, a third-grade teacher at Mariano Castro Elementary School.

Avila's class is part of the dual immersion program, where students learn to read, write and speak in both English and Spanish. Avila said that at the third-grade level, students focus on learning about animals and making animal reports, and she needed some way to help teach about the subject matter in both languages. She is a relatively new teacher on campus, and her class did not inherit a lot of books. She had used Donorschoose to fund her projects in the past, so she decided to go there for help.

Avila listed 35 books a mix of Spanish and English nonfiction about animals, insects, birds and reptiles with a price tag of $427. The list included books about bears, snails, giraffes and pugs. A few people donated to help pay for the books before Google paid for the whole thing.

"I woke up one morning and it was all paid for," Avila said. "The books have been shipped and they're coming in now."

Avila said the website is an alternative to asking for classroom materials from the school, which can be a slow and difficult task, or paying for the materials out of pocket. She said she plans to use the website as much as she can over the summer for school supplies for the coming school year.

Some Bay Area teachers are using the website to pay for supplies they need to keep up with a changing curriculum. Annette Polo is a kindergarten teacher at Thomas Edison Charter Academy in San Francisco, a school where over 80 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

The Google grant paid for two of her projects, including the purchase of two mini iPads tablets that Polo said would help to enrich her classroom with technology and offer applications that can challenge her students.

She also requested and received an activity kit to help her teach place value for numbers to kindergartners, and allow the kids to compose and decompose numbers with different digits.

Polo said both the projects are part of her effort to keep up with changes to the kindergarten curriculum dictated by the new Common Core standards, including a greater emphasis on technology in the classroom..

Polo is no stranger to Donorschoose.org. She started teaching six years ago and her classroom had no supplies to speak of. After spending $2,000 of her own money for supplies, she decided to try Donorschoose.org to fund a project requiring new tools to teach kids about alphabet sounds. Since then, Polo has successfully funded 56 school projects using the website.

Polo said the website has helped her pay for classroom supplies over the years that she otherwise wouldn't have. She said the months leading up to tax day are the months to ask for the big-budget stuff, like projectors or cameras. They are also the months grants from big companies like Google tend to come out. The summer months, on the other hand, are slower, and it might be better to ask for something smaller.

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