Vouching for a Cause – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Vouching for a Cause

This fall, Assistant Professor of Psychology Julie Kingery is bringing the work of Donorschoose.org Founder Charles Best into her classrooms by having students from her “Topics in Clinical Psychology” and “Adolescent Psychology” courses use the resource to benefit students and school programs across the country.

“The work of DonorsChoose.org is important for many reasons. With the economic downturn, school budget cuts, and usual financial struggles that many schools across the country face, many teachers don’t have access to funding to purchase supplies and provide hands-on experiences that are crucial for students’ learning. DonorsChoose helps to fulfill some of these needs, while raising public awareness of the dire needs that many schools have,” says Kingery.

Best founded the non-profit organization DonorsChoose.org in 2000 and now serves as its chief executive officer. The organization is unique in that it allows interested donors to access countless school programs in need of supplies and choose exactly how they want their funds to impact students. With the help of generous donors, the organization has raised more than $125 million to fund nearly 300,000, helping more than seven million students since it was established. Best worked at Wings Academy in the Bronx as a social studies teacher for five years before making DonorsChoose.org a full-time commitment.

At Convocation 2012, HWS students who attended Best’s address were given a $10 voucher that could be used to help fund a program of their choosing on DonorsChoose.org.

Kingery was inspired by his Convocation address, and wanted to bring his vision into the classroom. Both of Kingery’s classes focus on poverty and childhood development. Course discussion focuses around how poverty affects the quality of children’s neighborhoods, schools, access to resources, and a wide range of other difficulties that impact their social, psychological, and academic well-being, says Kingery. After learning that many of her students had not attended Best’s speech, she decided to find her own way to intertwine his message into the lives of her students and created an assignment that would do just that.

The President’s Office provided Kingery with vouchers for each of her 42 students to be able to impact programs across the country. “For the assignment, students first describe how the mission and vision of DonorsChoose.org relates to concepts covered in our readings and class discussion. Then, they choose a project posted on the site and use the $10 voucher to support that project,” says Kingery. The assignment gives students the opportunity to discuss why they chose the project they did, and how the assignment and lessons they are learn through it apply to what is being discussed in class.

Jenna Davidson-Catalano, a student in Professor Kingery’s Adolescent Psychology course, recalls her experiences with the voucher program. “I really liked the voucher project because it enabled the class to connect the material to a real world cause and give back to school communities,” she says. “I gave my voucher to a first grade classroom at Mariam Boyd Elementary in NC. I worked in a kindergarten classroom at Mariam Boyd for a week in March through the ASB program. My students are now in first grade and I am hoping that at least some of them are in the class!”

Although students were able to donate to any program, many of the other students in Kingery’s classes chose to use their vouchers to support programs in Geneva. In class, students study the Success for Geneva’s Children Databook and learn that approximately 24-percent of children in Geneva are living at or below the poverty level and 60-percent receive free or reduced lunch at school. Another project helped a California school start a girls’ basketball team and buy basketballs, a project the school had been trying to accomplish for a while.

The students who used their vouchers received personal thank you notes from the teachers via the DonorsChoose.org website.

Davidson-Catalano believes that “learning is incredibly applicable to the real world. I think sometimes we get stuck in the text book, but this project connected the material directly to the bigger picture.”