Four new iPads are some of the latest classroom supplies in Chris Hespe’s social studies classroom, where a group of middle schoolers learning English will be able to use the devices to translate lessons so that they can keep making progress alongside their peers.
Without $11 million in state grant funding and an additional $818,000 from the national nonprofit DonorsChoose — all geared toward purchasing critical school supplies for educators — the seventh and eighth grade teacher wouldn’t be able to afford that technology.
“These are kids we can target who are coming to school every day and are at a disadvantage to their peers,” said Hespe, who like many educators, already spends at least a few hundred dollars each school year to refill supplies. “Before we try to close all of the other gaps … how do we level the playing field for them?”
Hespe, now in his 20th year of teaching, was one of 22 teachers from Aspen Creek PreK-8 School in Broomfield and one of about 13,000 educators statewide who received classroom learning tools and supplies through the grant program. That program, which launched close to a month ago, allowed teachers to apply for funding online through DonorsChoose by pitching specific projects and requesting classroom materials that would buoy their efforts to catch students up after the pandemic disrupted learning. Funding for teacher requests, doled out on a first-come, first-served basis, ran out after only eight days.
Recognizing the steep demand among teachers for more money for their classrooms, Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday morning announced a plan to give educators another shot at applying for supplies, committing $6.7 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to the DonorsChoose program. The fund was created through the CARES Act, the 2020 COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress. Colorado received $44 million from the measure.
A separate $422,000 from the Colorado Department of Education will also add to funds available to teachers, with the total $7.1 million infusion potentially benefiting up to 10,000 classrooms, depending on how many teachers apply and the cost of their application ideas.
“For your classroom to work, you need of course a great teacher, which you have,” Polis told a crowd of students, teachers and staff just outside Aspen Creek PreK-8 School during a news conference Thursday. “You need enthusiastic students, which you are. But you also need supplies. If you went to school and it was a big empty room, it would be hard to learn, right?”
Polis acknowledged the toll classroom spending often takes on teachers’ personal budgets, noting that many devote several hundred dollars from their own wallets to buying supplies for their students each year.
The fact that funds for the first round of the DonorsChoose program dried up after little more than a week “showed how much the need was,” Polis said.
“We hope teachers are very creative about how they want to use this $1,000 to make this year and future years even better,” he added.
The application process for the new set of funding opened Thursday and will again offer grants in $1,000 increments on a first-come, first-served basis. With shipping costs and other fees, teachers will receive $800 worth of supplies. To apply, educators must visit DonorsChoose at this link, click “create your project” and enter the campaign code “COLORADO.” The nonprofit reviews each application, funds eligible projects and ships the supplies to each teacher’s school.
The program will prioritize teachers who applied last month but who did not receive school supplies because their application was not reviewed before the funding was exhausted, said Matt Koziol, the project manager for the DonorsChoose program at CDE. About $750,000 worth of projects are waiting to be reviewed or funded.
Teachers who already receive supplies and resources through the grant program are eligible to apply again, Polis said, noting that the funds will likely be depleted after just a few days. The deadline to apply is Sept. 29.
Sara Sloan, a first grade teacher at Aspen Creek PreK-8 School, has been able to expand her team’s collection of cardstock, scissors, staplers, markers, whiteboards and paper for students to use because of a grant she received last month.
She estimates that she easily spends more than $1,000 of her own money each school year on school supplies and games for her classroom, noting that she often tries to hide her numerous Amazon purchases from her husband.
The extra school supplies have retooled her lessons so that her students are better able to work on phonics and practice their handwriting.
“I hope this makes them more excited,” Sloan said.
Hespe, the social studies teacher, is getting ready to introduce the new iPads to his students next week so that they can understand what he is teaching them as they continue learning English.
“We’re just trying to get them so that when they’re in our classrooms, they’re not waiting until we can get to them to try to explain things better when they could get it right at the same time as everybody else,” he said.
CORRECTION: This story was updated Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 at 5:30 p.m. to correct the location of Aspen Creek PreK-8 School in a caption. The school is in Broomfield.