Dear Donors Choose,
I really don't know how to go about writing a thank-you letter to people who extended my fellow teachers and me a lifeline at a time when we needed it most.
Donors Choose, of course, is not just one person, but it allows teachers to post projects and then those projects are funded by people who choose them from all of the projects that are listed on your website.
It was something we needed after the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado destroyed our schools and classrooms that our teachers had invested years into making into safe, comfortable learning environments.
Not many Joplin teachers were aware of Donors Choose. That's where one of the true heroes of the Joplin Tornado recovery process stepped in. Debby Guardino did not stand in front of a bank of television cameras, shed tears, and offer platitudes.
She did not even have to get involved. Debby is a classroom teacher, not in Joplin, Missouri, but in Chesapeake, Virginia. When she first heard of the Joplin Tornado, she did not even know anyone in Joplin, as far as I can tell. All she knew was that the teachers and students in Joplin needed help and she knew just the way to do it.
Debby called Joplin R-8 Administration and let them know that she could help the teachers navigate their way through Donors Choose to help replace the items that were lost in the tornado and perhaps obtain new items that would help make their classes more productive when the 2011-2012 school year began or shortly thereafter.
Debby did not have to do that. Nor did she have to fly to Joplin and personally help teachers learn how to submit Donors Choose requests.
That's what heroes do.
Debby Guardino and Donors Choose played a big role in helping Joplin's teachers and students recover from the tornado. More than half a million dollars' worth of projects were funded, many of them for small amounts, at least when it comes to school officials' way of thinking- just a few hundred dollars or maybe a couple of thousand.
The requests were submitted for items of furniture, lamps, shelving, books and some small technology items for projects, posters, everything that makes a school a school.
It was a wonderful opportunity, not just for teachers and students, who were having to turn warehouses and mall stores into schools, but also for people across the United States who wanted to do something, anything, to help the people of Joplin who had just lost one-third of their city and 161 lives to the worst tornado to hit the United States in six decades.
I was not one of the teachers who took advantage of the opportunity that you provided. I had been fortunate and most of the items from my East Middle School classroom were untouched by the storm and most of my decorations were always samples of my students' writing, but I appreciated what you did for my colleagues.
I taught next door to a teacher who was able to turn a warehouse classroom into a semblance of a school through some lamps and furniture so generously provided by donors who gave through your organization.
I saw other teachers use Donors Choose to replace items lost in the tornado, but most of them used their requests to build on to what they had been doing, to do the things they wanted to do to make the classroom experience a memorable one for the students they have dedicated their lives to serving.
Thank you, Donors Choose, for providing an incredible service.
Please don't take what I am going to write next as any reflection of how I feel or how the teachers in the Joplin R-8 School District feel about everything you have made possible. My former colleagues who are moving into brand new, state-of-the-art buildings, specifically designed for 21st Century learning are going to be leaving their Donors Choose gifts behind.
It is not that they wanted to. Teachers do not make much money and they understand that many of your donors who gave money are not rich people, just people who wanted to make a difference. And they certainly did. My former colleagues did not realize, however, that these gifts came with an expiration date.
Joplin R-8 Administration let the teachers know as they prepared to move into their new buildings that the Donors Choose gifts would not fit in. I don't know if it was because they were already two years old and the administrators did not want old items in their sparkling buildings or if the items, chosen specifically by the teachers to meet their specifications, clashed with the 21st Century visions of the top administrators.
Some teachers packed their Donors Choose items and had them sent to the new schools...and the items were sent back.
Don't worry. Your items are not going to be thrown away. My understanding is that they will be sent to other schools in the Joplin R-8 School District, schools that were not hit by the tornado, schools that are not being used as showplaces by administrators and therefore, the items won't stand out when the local and national media are publicizing school buildings that are like none that have been created in the history of K-12 education.
Of course, the teachers who are the recipients of those items will not have the same sentimental attachment to them. These teachers think, and understandably so, that they are being given me hand-me-downs.
Items that are good enough for warehouse schools and mall schools do not fit in at the new East Middle School, Soaring Heights Elementary School, and Irving Elementary School.
Please do not take the actions of these upper-level administrators as evidence that Joplin teachers do not appreciate the wonderful service that you provide and the generosity of all of those who gave their money to help them and their students.
If it were up to them, Donors Choose items would be featured just as prominently in the new buildings. Education is not just grabbing for the latest shiny bauble that comes along. Education should always include a reverence for the past and an appreciation for those who stepped forward and offered a helping hand.
Even if the administrators have put your contributions behind and consigned them to their older schools, the teachers will never forget what you have done.
My apologies for making this letter so long.