Google, DonorsChoose Partner to Fund Culturally Responsive Classroom Materials
About two-and-a-half years ago, staff at the nonprofit crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose.org began to notice an uptick in teacher requests for resources in which students could “see themselves”—that was the key phrase that kept coming up.
That upward trend has continued: Since 2016, such requests have increased 117 percent. And DonorsChoose is taking note. On Thursday, the organization announced the launch of #ISeeMe, a campaign aimed at boosting the amount of culturally responsive materials in U.S. classrooms. These include items like books written by authors of color, or other resources featuring figures from diverse backgrounds.
As part of the campaign—which will target requests on DonorsChoose made by teachers of color, female math and science teachers, and any teacher who asks for resources that reflect their students’ identities—Google.org has pledged $4 million to match donations to relevant projects.
“What kids learn today shapes the world we live in tomorrow, and we know kids learn best when their schools reflect their cultural identity,” Justin Steele, head of Americas at Google.org, said in a statement. “We’re excited to support the DonorsChoose.org #ISeeMe campaign which will provide invaluable resources to teachers across the U.S. as they build out more inclusive classrooms for diverse learners.”
In addition to the funds Google.org is committing, many celebrities and high-profile philanthropists have pledged to provide or have already provided financial support to classroom projects in the campaign, including actresses Whoopi Goldberg, Lupita Nyong’o and Octavia Spencer; actor Samuel L. Jackson; singer-songwriter John Legend; and comedian Stephen Colbert.
“We’ve been very quietly bringing together this incredible group of supporters of #ISeeMe, in whom students can see themselves just as we want them to be able to see themselves in their teachers and their classrooms,” Charles Best, the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose, said during a recent conversation with reporters.
One of the ways DonorsChoose is identifying these teachers and projects, he said, is through a new function on the website that allows teachers to identify their gender, race, education and number of years in the profession, among other questions. Already, nearly 60,000 educators have filled out the prompts, allowing the nonprofit to better connect donors to their projects.
Keya Wondwossen, the director of advocacy and public partnerships at DonorsChoose, drew on personal experiences to explain to reporters why this campaign is so important to her.
Wondwossen is a former elementary school ESL teacher, and when she was in the classroom, she used to tell her students they were “language superheroes.”
“The special power of my students was that they could speak more than one language,” she said. “As someone who is the daughter of immigrants from Ethiopia, I myself understood much of what my students were experiencing, and I wanted my students to know their backgrounds would be celebrated in my classroom and that they could be their whole selves not only in the classroom in our school, but throughout their lives.”
Part of that, she added, is ensuring that students have people and resources in their lives that share and affirm their identities and backgrounds.
“There is power in students seeing themselves in their classrooms,” Wondwossen said. “It’s reflective of my own experiences.”
Prior to announcing the campaign, DonorsChoose consulted with a number of individuals and organizations, including former Education Secretary John B. King, Jr.; New York City Public Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza; the Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators; the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution; and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
“Diversity is crucial to unlocking a more prosperous future for our nation,” said King, the tenth U.S. Education Secretary and current president and CEO of The Education Trust. “I am encouraged by the impact that #ISeeMe will have for students and educators. Students should be able to learn and thrive in school environments that are intentionally and meaningfully diverse, but also culturally affirming and inclusive.”
Founded in 2000, DonorsChoose has helped over 500,000 public school teachers in the U.S. fund 1.3 million classroom projects, spanning from book sets to robotics kits to flexible furniture. The nonprofit estimates that 81 percent of U.S. public schools employ a teacher who has used DonorsChoose, and that $800 million has been donated to fund those projects to date.