A new set of dictionaries for second graders; the biographies of 14 composers for a classroom of budding elementary musicians; a rocket launcher and parachutes to learn about air resistance; a set of standing desks and desk cycles for restless students. These are all projects on the wish lists of US teachers who were trying to raise hundreds—or thousands—of dollars on the teacher crowd funding website DonorsChoose.org.
Yesterday (May 7), all those projects—plus every other request on the site from the state of South Carolina—were fully funded, thanks in part to the comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert.
Colbert helped pay for 965 teacher-requests in his home state, having raised $313,440 by auctioning off the desk and fireplace, as well as other iconic elements, of the set from his popular political satire show The Colbert Report, which ended its nine-year run in December 2014. He donated half the proceeds to DonorsChoose.org, and the other half went to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a group that works with injured military service members.
Colbert’s auction funded a portion of the state’s teachers’ projects; DonorsChoose.org then got donations from the Morgridge Foundation and South Carolina-based ScanSource to pay for every project by a South Carolina teacher. In total, they contributed $776,000 for about 800 teachers’ requests.
These are the projects that received the most funding from the group. A number of teachers emphasized the need for more technology in their classrooms—five of the top 10 projects asked for computers or iPads.
Standing desks and cycling in class could be good for students, who are not hardwired to sit still for hours on end, but they are the kind of expense that school districts often can’t cover. The school serves a high percentage of low-income students, many of whom have social problems outside the classroom that can make it difficult to focus at school, says Melissa D’Arcy, the school’s nurse. The school is eager for “anything we can do that’ll help them settle down and be able to engage and learn while they’re here,” she tells Quartz.
Carrie Morgridge, the Morgridge Foundation’s vice president and author of Every Gift Matters, said that funding requests from teachers can make a big difference in student learning. “The teachers know what they need in their own classroom,” Morgridge says. “And sometimes what their needs are and what the district’s needs are … don’t align.”