“Bouncy, bubbly, energetic, hopeful, helpful, BEAUTIFUL…my kids in a nutshell!” wrote Geneva kindergarten teacher Sharyn Powell on the DonorsChoose.org website. Powell, who works with students with speech limitations at West Street Elementary School, was hopeful that in using the site, which allows public school teachers to seek funding for projects, she might be able to procure five tablet computers for her classroom.
In collaboration with Assistant Professor of Education Mary Kelly and Meghan Warager ’12, MAT ’13, Powell had learned of the impact that tablets can have with learning basic literacy skills especially in children with speech challenges.
“I knew these tablets were skill building but in my heart of hearts, I knew I couldn’t afford them,” says Powell, noting that her request totaled $950.
That’s when she logged into the non-profit organization’s website, through which anyone can donate directly to specific projects in public schools across the country in a unique peer-to-peer philanthropic effort. Powell, like thousands of dedicated teachers in the United States, created a project page, laying out the needs for her initiative to improve the lives and classroom experiences of her students.
So when Charles Best, the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose, visited Geneva to give the Convocation speech for Hobart and William Smith, many HWS and Geneva community members – inspired by his vision – headed to the site to see what projects they could fund locally.
One month later, Powell received the funding for the five tablets in her West Street classroom. “I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the HWS students and the community,” says Powell. “The kind words, the wonderful things they said about me and my classroom – I cried.”
“Sharyn is such an innovative teacher; she is constantly willing to thoughtfully engage all of her students,” says Kelly. “With the work Meghan and I did in her class, the impact of the tablets was visible. The students were engaged in their learning, and were really able to communicate.”
Simple to use, the 14 children in her classroom were immediately interacting with tablets as part of one of their many “center activities.” Using a host of programs and apps – many of them free – students are now participating in interactive language and cognition building activities.
During the recent visit to the school, the classroom was abuzz with energy and excitement that can only be generated by five- and six-year olds: hands were raised, a student diligently circled words in a poem on the Smart Board, and others worked, heads bowed over markers and scraps of paper.
The kindergarteners waited patiently for their turn with the tablets, gently “parking” them when they finished their exercises. With careful hands, the children practiced high frequency words, followed twinkling stars to create difficult letter and numbers, and eagerly listened and responded to stories.
The tablets, in combination with the classroom’s Smart Board and Smart Table, encourage a social communication to solve problems that is often challenging to achieve. “These kids – especially those with speaking deficits – can work on problems together, feeling included for the first time,” says Powell.
In an open letter to her donors on the website, Powell wrote: “I never dreamed that tablets in our classroom would become a reality. This is a small community and the ‘ripple’ effect truly has opened amazing opportunities for our children. I am grateful, humbled and honored. ‘Thank you’ seems so inadequate, but I hold you all in my heart.”