Local News

Friday, Oct 19 2012 02:29 PM

Private donations soften blows of budget cuts

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Suburu Elementary School kindergarten teacher Arlee Hall works with Sadie Hernandez, left, and Abigail Fletes on their Hot Dots project Friday in class. The program enables students, many for whom English is a second language, to practice reading using a phonics program. Hall is among more than 100 Bakersfield public school teachers who have received donations totaling more than $251,000 to fund 354 classroom projects through DonorsChoose.org in the past 12 months.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Suburu Elementary School kindergartener Madilyn Peltser uses a Nook in class Friday that allows the children to download software that reads stories to the students.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Kindergartner Madilyn Peltser stared hard at the split screen of an electronic tablet, where two seemingly identical images of monkeys peered back at her. It took a minute, but then she found it. On one side, there were three red dots embedded in the dense jungle behind the primate. On the other side, there were only two dots.

Madilyn, 5, brightened, then showed the tablet to a visitor.

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To browse project proposals at a school near you, log onto: www.donorschoose.org.

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"You have to figure out what's different," she explained before counting out loud, "one, two, three." Then she tapped the extra dot with a stylus, causing another pair of images to appear.

The Nook tablet was paid for with some of the $251,697 that Bakersfield public school teachers have raised through a website called DonorsChoose.org. Founded in 2000, the nonprofit website matches donors with teachers who post wishlists for specific educational projects for their students.

Those interested in giving can sort projects by geographic area, lowest cost and highest poverty, among other parameters.

In the past year, contributors have funded 354 Bakersfield classroom projects through the site. Another $101,478 has been raised by 113 Kern County teachers outside of Bakersfield, for a total of $353,176 for 535 projects.

DonorsChoose.org operates year-round, and occasionally gifts are inflated by matching dollars.

The "Fuel Your School" promotion by Chevron is donating $1 for every eight gallons of gas bought at a Texaco or Chevron gas station in October. The money goes to the nearest Kern County school to the station until the promotion ends or Chevron's donations reach $300,000.

The deadline for teachers to apply for that funding is Nov. 30, and $95,185.88 has been awarded so far. A new model of the solar system and math and science games for Leo B. Hart Elementary School are among the projects to receive funding from the campaign.

And local employees of insurance company Horace Mann have pooled resources to assist Donald E. Suburu Elementary School and get matching dollars from the insurer's corporate office, which is helping schools across the country.

Suburu kindergarten teacher Arlee Hall has solicited funds for a variety of projects over the years, including Nooks and iPods.

"We're hoping to add more," he said. "For now, we have to share."

Maya Walsh and William Cannon were sharing some high-tech phonics flash cards Friday when local Horace Mann employees visited Hall's class to see how their $100 gift was being used. The money paid for flash cards used with a purple kitten stylus. When a child points to a card, the kitten's eyes light up red for the wrong answer or green for the correct answer.

"It's fun," said 5-year-old Maya, grinning as she showed off her feline friend's green glowing eyes.

Hall said such programs help him deal with growing class sizes because children can use them independently, and added that access to them would be impossible without private support because of reduced state funding for public schools.

"We get all these great catalogs in the mail and they're full of really cool things, but the problem we always ran into was the budget," he said.

Hall likes to incorporate technology into his classroom because his students are growing up in a world where technology is everywhere, and it's easier to get ideas across to them "when you speak their language.

"My classroom would be a very different experience without this. It's much more magical."

Educational resources are a great cause, said Mayra Delgadillo, a marketing executive in Horace Mann's Bakersfield office.

"It's the best way to have an immediate impact because you can see the direct benefit right away," she said.

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