On Tuesday night, Chicago teacher Amani Ghusein stayed up late to watch TV. She had heard there might be a special announcement relating to one of her favorite education websites, DonorsChoose.org, and was curious to know more.
She was glad she did.
Ghusein, who teaches science to grades 3 through 8 at Dawes Elementary School, caught the surprise announcement made on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that cryptocurrency and finance company Ripple had made a huge donation to fund every project on education crowdfunding site DonorsChoose. In all, Ripple donated $29 million to fund more than 35,000 classroom requests. According to DonorsChoose, the amount will cover 70,000 books, 15,000 art supplies and 6,200 pieces of lab equipment.
“I was not expecting that,” says Ghusein, who had five active projects on the site totalling $3,600, including requests for a Cricut Explore craft machine and three types of robots. “I thought they were going to do something small, like fund every special education project or something—but funding every project? That’s beyond amazing.”
Since then Ghusein has been excitedly texting with colleagues during her school’s spring break. They weren’t the only one’s floored by the announcement. Teachers everywhere have taken to Twitter in droves to express their appreciation, sending more than 10,000 tweets with the hashtag #BestSchoolDay. They said thank you for Spanish-language books, science projects and entire class sets of Google Expeditions.
The online enthusiasm spurred big interest in the site. On Wednesday, teachers created more than 15,600 projects on DonorsChoose, which beat the site's record for most projects created in an entire week.
Previous gifts have covered costs for teachers in specific regions, but this is the first to cover all currently-active projects. DonorsChoose CEO Charles Best cites the donation as “historic” and calls it the largest cryptocurrency donation to a single charity. According to Best, it came out of a long-shot email request he sent to Ripple founder Chris Larsen, who’s been a supporter of the site for years.
“Chris Larsen is someone who had done a lot in his career on the frontlines to enable people to do big things with small sums of money,” Best tells EdSurge. “The DonorsChoose model is asking classroom teachers on the frontline to design their own micro-solutions with a bottom’s up approach to education innovation that really spoke to him.”
In a statement to EdSurge, Ripple’s senior vice president of marketing, Monica Long, said that “DonorsChoose.org's track record speaks for itself—they are highly effective at improving the quality of education and the experience of teachers and students across America.” To help make the donations more personal, DonorsChoose is helping identify projects in the hometowns of Ripple employees, and making those donations in their names.
Once funded, teacher requests on the site typically take about 30 days to process and fulfill, but Best says employees are working to ship out every project funded by Ripple as quickly as possible. Unlike other crowdfunding sites, DonorsChoose doesn’t send money to teachers. Instead, teachers submit wishlists from approved vendors and the company purchases and sends the materials directly to schools.
Best describes Ripple’s gift as monumental, and is skeptical whether it ever would or could be repeated. “I think we all acknowledge that this is a one-time, historic donation,” Best says. “I wouldn’t even dare to hope that this could happen again.”
A Lesson in Gratitude
Like Ripple, Ghusein also has a long history with DonorsChoose. She posted her first request—for a microscope—back in 2004, and since then has put up a steady stream of project proposals aimed at bringing the latest resources and technology to her students.
“I have an amazing principal, but she can’t fund everything,” Ghusein says. “When I first started teaching, all I had was books. How do you become a successful teacher when you learn in college the best way to teach kids to learn is through hands-on activities?”
About 30 minutes south of Ghusein’s school, Joe Somerville also heard the news Tuesday and took to Twitter (for only the third time ever) to express his appreciation that an annual trip to visit Historically Black Colleges and Universities with his 6th-graders would now be fully funded. Somerville’s school, Lloyd Bond, is a public charter serving a low-income housing community near South Chicago.
At the end of May, Somerville will fly his class down to Atlanta and Montgomery, Alabama, to see schools such as Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta and Tuskegee University, along with historic landmarks such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home and sites central to the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
“I want them to have something in their arsenal in the future when they make decisions,” Somerville says of his hopes for his students. “I want them to see their potential. I think it’s really important for them to go to HBCUs and see themselves represented in the schools.”
To defray costs for parents, he typically hosts a series of fundraisers throughout the year and donates part of the proceeds to his DonorsChoose campaign, which helps pay for van transportation and meals during the trip. This year, though, the Ripple donation has freed those funds up for an extra field trip or perhaps to be rolled over into next year’s kitty. “It’s breathing room, really,” Somerville says. “Every year it’s a struggle to find donations.”
Ghusein says many of the parents at her school are also low-income, and she never requests contributions from them. Instead she uses social media to spread the word about what her class needs and looks for foundations or groups that offer to match donations on certain project types. She also suggests keeping projects under $400, adding a catchy title and painting a picture for donors explaining how a request will be put to use.
And though Ghusein always has the class help her write thank you notes to donors expressing their gratitude, this time she’s at a loss for words.
“Thank you is not enough,” she says. “I don’t know if they understand the impact they’ve made on someone’s life.”