As STEM teachers across the country prepare to head back to school, a few will get some help this year stocking their classrooms with equipment and materials.
Craig Newmark, the founder of the classifieds website Craigslist, has donated $1 million through his philanthropic organization to support STEM projects seeking funding on DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding site for schools and educators.
Of the total donation, $850,000 will go toward dollar-for-dollar matching on STEM projects on the platform, while an additional $100,000 is reserved specifically for projects that will provide science and technology opportunities for girls.
Donors Choose and Newmark are also encouraging teachers and the public to share “why STEM teachers matter to you” with the hashtag #STEMstories on social media. Engagement around the hashtag will unlock an additional $50,000 in matching funds.
“I want to help regular people have an effect on education throughout our country,” said Newmark, in an interview with Education Week. Teachers play a major role in shaping and supporting the nation’s citizenry, but they don’t always get the support they need, he said.
To be eligible for the matching funds, STEM projects on the site must cost less than $1,000 and be in schools where more than half of the students come from low-income households. Users can find qualifying projects by navigating to the “match offers” section on the Donors Choose’s website and selecting for “Craig Newmark Philanthropies.” The match offer will stay live for as long as the funding lasts, said Kristina Joye Lyles, a senior partnerships manager at Donors Choose.
Newmark wanted to ensure that the grants would go to the areas where teachers need the most support, so Donors Choose polled users in its Facebook group earlier this year. Of the respondents, 80 percent said they wanted the matching funds for STEM projects. But Newmark also has a personal connection to the subject.
“I’m a nerd—I identify with science, tech, engineering, and math,” he said. “I also see that our country will have a lot of opportunities in those areas over the coming decade.”
This isn’t Newmark’s first campaign with the crowdfunding website. Last year, he donated another $1 million to fund the projects of teachers working with military families. Those grants reached 1,800 teachers and 318,000 students, according to Donors Choose.
Newmark is also a member of the organization’s National Advisory Council.
Right now, there are about 76,000 projects seeking funding on the site in a variety of subjects, said Joye Lyles. The site’s administrators are seeing an uptick in projects from rural and low-income areas, she said.
Linwood Starling, a high school science teacher at Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville, N.C., said that that Donors Choose helps him provide basic classroom necessities for his students, many of whom are low-income. His school serves military families stationed at the Fort Bragg base, and Starling received matching funds through Newmark’s grant last year for several projects. Starling has posted over 200 projects to the site.
“Our budgets keep getting cut here in this area,” he said. “Without [Donors Choose], a lot of our students would go without the the hands-on experiences they could have.” But even with matching programs, Starling has had some of his projects go unfunded. It’s especially hard to complete campaigns for big-ticket items, like laptops or other electronics, he said.
Photo: Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.—Frank Franklin II/AP-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.