Triton Teacher Gets Creative to Get New Classroom Supplies
Jack Feighan doesn't want his students to go without, so he brings appeals for new classroom supplies to a web of donors online with Donors Choose.
Wanted: One telescope for Triton Regional High School. Students will use it to connect classroom lessons with the cosmos above.
The only problem? It’s the age of belt-tightening in education spending, and school districts sometimes have to cut entire programs or positions to stay within the budget. There’s rarely any extra cash for an extra like a telescope.
But Triton chemistry teacher Jack Feighan doesn’t think his students should go without extras, so instead of turning to the district for more funds, Feighan takes his appeals online.
Feighan is one of the growing number of educators using Donors Choose, an online charity specifically geared toward education. Teachers like Feighan propose a classroom project or make a pitch for extra supplies and donors—who come from all over—decide what projects to finance, from field trips to classroom computers to books and so much more. Donors can give in any amount and the collective support of many helps a project get fully funded.
Feighan’s latest pitch is his biggest one yet. “Adventures in Chemistry: Space, the Final Frontier” goes for the big ask—a telescope to supplement Feighan’s lessons in five chemistry classes at Triton.
“To make science real, you have to connect it to life. It’s not just book learning. Students like real things they can touch and see,” Feighan says. “A telescope is great because it’s science-related and most kids who come to Triton haven’t had any experience using one.”
Feighan first put his telescope pitch on Donors Choose in May, asking for $578.48 to finance the purchase. Slowly, the donations have come in. With just days left to go until the Oct. 16 deadline, the project has amassed $300 on the nose, leaving $278.48 to go.
The chemistry teacher is optimistic and he has reason to be. This is the fifth project he has listed on Donors Choose since December 2010 and all previous efforts were fully funded.
“I started looking into it when (Black Horse Pike Regional School District) director of curriculum Brian Repici brought up Donors Choose two or three years ago. Once I looked into it, I learned that 66 percent of Donors Choose projects get funded,” Feighan said.
So he looked around his classroom and started making a list. First up, Chillin' in Mr F's Class, a proposal for an ice-maker and cooler for all of the experiments in his class that require ice. Then came requests for more safety equipment, including goggles and aprons, and even supplies to complete “slime wars” in class.
“One of the goals of my class is to have as many hands-on labs as possible. So when we’re making ice cream or measuring the sugar content in grapefruit juice or making glow-in-the-dark sticks, the students are learning about science and having fun,” Feighan said.
The telescope request is particularly timely to the scientific community. The Mars rover landed on the Red Planet just a few months after Feighan’s request went up on Donors Choose. Donors, who can leave comments after they pledge money, clearly were enthused to help students connect with the breakthrough.
“I gave because I'm inspired by the Curiosity Mars Rover. Hope this telescope sparks your curiosity too!” one donor from Jersey City, NJ, wrote.
A donor from California wrote, “From a friend in the space industry. To infinity and beyond.”
Just as donors leave notes, Donors Choose teachers are asked to write "thank you" notes. And although Feighan doesn’t involve the students in the requests—“I don’t feel comfortable asking them for extras,” he said—the class must write "thank you" notes to big donors after a project is funded.
Students never mind and are grateful for any extras they get in the classroom, the educator says. A note on his Donors Choose profile sums it up:
I am continually surprised at the reaction the students have when they receive the smallest of treats. Our school does not have some of the frills of more fortunate areas, but we find creative ways to provide an exciting environment for the children.
And if this project gets fully funded, Feighan already has plans for the telescope.
“People think of a telescope as a nighttime thing, but we’ll start with the daytime experience of looking at the moon,” he said. “You can’t believe how dramatic the difference is between looking with your naked eye and a telescope. There is a lot students can learn.”
The deadline to donate to Feighan’s telescope project is Tuesday, Oct. 16. All donations on Donors Choose until Oct. 15 will be matched dollar for dollar when you use the keyword “PUMPKIN” at the checkout.