Thursday, February 19, 2009

School Supplies

South Pasadena schools are legendary in Southern California. Each year they are ranked among the best in the state. US News and World Report even rated South Pasadena High School as one of the best in the country.

We're fortunate to benefit from these outstanding public schools. Innovative teachers, a diverse student population and a vibrant, involved parent/teacher foundation assure that all South Pasadena children have the opportunity for a good education. The schools were the main reason my husband and I initially decided to sell our west side Los Angeles home and buy a house in South Pasadena. It's the reason many people are content to rent here even when they could buy elsewhere.

But many areas around the country are not nearly as fortunate. And with that in mind, I wanted to highlight a wonderful non profit organization I recently discovered...

Donor's Choose is a smart way to give needy students the materials public schools often cannot provide. Teachers from around the country submit project proposals, and concerned individuals -- like us -- can choose which projects to fund. Proposals range from requests for library books to overhead projectors, from computers to costumes for dramatic productions. You can search by areas of interest, or geographic location and then donate to the projects you find the most interesting. Recently, I helped a Las Vegas history teacher provide all of his students with an alternate history book to compare and contrast with the one provided by the state. I was particularly excited about this opportunity because the proposed book -- Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States -- was one that changed my life and enabled me, as a young person, to develop my critical thinking. The idea of giving others that same experience was thrilling.

Don't feel like you have to be Bill Gates to participate ... you can donate as much -- or as little -- as you choose. (And in many instances, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match your donation.) Please take a look and see if there might be a classroom project with your name on it. Or even better: Donor's Choose allows you to make contributions in someone else's honor. What better way to thank your old 6th grade teacher than by funding a project in her name?

16 comments:

Yakpate said...

What a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing this positive way to make a difference in children's lives.

The photo is great, too. I love the rust/blue-gray contrast.

Abe Lincoln said...

Bill and Melinda Gates are really road warriors when it comes to education. A couple of their schools or school ideas have turned bad schools into really fantastic schools and in a short period of time.

Are your local schools supported or paid for by property taxes or sales taxes or both. Here property taxes are a constant headache and are almost at the point of taxing folks out of their homes. The new Ohio governor has come up with a plan to lessen the load on taxpayers but with the economy sagging in Ohio he doesn't have the funds to make the system work.

I must admit that your school photograph is stunning to look at and I thought at first it was a church or something like that. But not a school. I guess the architecture is so different.

Abraham Lincoln
Brookville Daily Photo

Dixie Jane said...

Laurie, I am so glad to see you take on such a worthy project and the picture of a lovely school. I remember your being frustrated, as a child, because you couldn't read all of the books in the library. You and your daughter are lucky to live in such a town as So. Pas. I grew up in a town of 15,000 in deep South Texas with one elementary school, one Junior High and one High School. In spite of it all I was fortunate to have some great teachers and wondered what they were doing in such a remote place. To this day I remember things I was taught, a Biology teacher who took us on trips to explore the flora on Saturdays. A geometry teacher who stayed late after school with just me because I didn't understand geometry. An English teacher who taught me a lot through example. I did the,"Dance of the Wind" in gauze I dyed purple in the bathtub. I helped wind the Maypole in the Spring and sang in the Glee Club. I am also grateful to my mother who couldn't stand a misspelled word and taught me the love of writing and all about rejection slips.

Petrea said...

When the neighborhood kids come to my door selling candy, wrapping paper and magazines to fund field trips and school projects it breaks my heart. I never had to be a door-to-door salesperson as a kid just so I could have an education.

Thanks, Laurie.

dbdubya said...

Abe - Public Schools in California are financed primarily through property taxes which are collected by the State and funneled back to local school disticts. Local taxes do not support the schools. You may recall that in 1978 California led the taxpayer's revolt by overwhelmingly passing Proposition 13 which radically changed taxation in California. At the time, inflation was causing property values and property taxes to increase radically. Prop 13 froze property taxes and limited increases to 1.25 percent of assessed value and limited annual increases to 1%. The only time a house is reassessed is when it sells. This drastically limited government's revenue, impacting schools, infrastructure and programs. People's homes were saved, but government has been struggling since. Prop 13 also requires new taxes to be approved by 2/3 of the voters.


One of the impacts of less State funding through property taxes has been special taxes approved by voters, and local non-government fundraisers. South Pasadena has the South Pasadena Education Foundation (SPEF) which raises hundreds of thousands each year to support school programs not funded by the district. That's one of the reasons why the arts are so strong in local schools. SPEF raises money in several ways, but the largest effort is their annual Party Gras which is a large backyard dinner party hosted at an estate home, or more recently on the golf course. It now raises over $100,000 per year. A recent fundraising drive replaced the High School's athletic fields with synthetic grass. Parental involvement and community support has been instrumental in creating the very successful school district Laurie describes.

The community's ability to raise private money to support the schools has been a tremendous benefit to the South Pas district and its students. The excellent school district has helped to keep South Pasadena a desirable community, and has also maintain property values. This benefits both the students and residents. But, students in less fortunate disricts don't get have the same advantages. That's one of the reasons why there's a huge disparity in the quality of education throughout California.

Margaret said...

Alas, South Pasadena schools will be hit very hard by the state budget woes. It is expected that school librarians, art and music teachers, instructional aids, office staff, and custodial staff will lose their jobs -- and that's just this year! Full-time teachers are expected to receive pink slips in March, and unfortunately some great young, innovative, inspirational teachers will be the first to go because they lack seniority.

Heather said...

My high school doesn't even have heat this year. The students have to use space heaters and bundle up in hats, gloves, coats and quilts. (I attended high school in Kansas, not San Diego - it's COLD there, especially this year!)

Look at all the windows on that school! So many of them look like prisons now, with no windows at all. Heaven forbid children should daydream. FOCUS! Children need FOCUS! Good grief.

barbra said...

Good for you! Donors Choose is AWESOME!!!

Thank God for SPas public schools, keeping my property value from falling too much! (We bought in 2006 - gah!)

Trish said...

Great suggestion Laurie. Reminds me of the bumper sticker I had on my old truck: It will be a fine day when schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to fund B-52's.

The hilarious thing is that this USED to be called Lincoln...so Abe's comments are rather appropriate!

altadenahiker said...

checking it out. Great idea Laurie. You know what I hate about making contributions -- when they use my money to solicit more contributions from me. Dollars are precious, and that's not where I want to see them spent.

Tash said...

That's a marvellous & worthwhile post and call for action. Well done, Laurie. I think there are a lot of neighboring cities here that could use the help. Thanks again for making me aware of the opportunity.

Laurie said...

Hi everyone,

Dbdubya, thanks so much for the in depth responses. I can always count on you, Mister Earl, Trish and Zip to give us the background info on local issues.

Petrea, I'm a sucker for any kid selling magazines. I agree with you ... I didn't have to be a door to door salesman, either.

Altadenahiker, as someone who has worked with a lot of fundraisers, I hear you... but I also understand the need to keep looking for donations. Kiva.org, for example, is wonderful about not spending too much money promoting their site -- but they also have a problem with the fact that so many people who have made loans don't realize the loans have been repaid and they can reloan the money. So, they have a lot of un-usable funds that might get loaned if they'd do a big push to get back in touch with former donors. Anyway, it's hard to be a nonprofit. I have worked for so many of them and they can barely afford to pay their writers. (So what else is new, right?!)

Barbra, don't get me started on home prices dropping. Yikes.

Tash, I'm glad to pass along things like this!

Trish, I used to have that bumper sticker on my car in the late 1980s... :-)

Thank you so much, everyone. Until tomorrow...

Petrea said...

Regarding the Hiker's comment, I agree. There's a difference between sending a new mailing to ask for a further donation and sending unsolicited calendars, tote bags and other tchochkes. I resent the latter, not only as a waste of my donation but as an insult to my intelligence. Those folks are off my list, fast.

Laurie said...

Petrea, do nonprofits do that? The only thing I can remember getting were little mailing stickers from World Wildlife Federation. I'd be irritated with unsolicited junk, too.

Anonymous said...

Ah gee. When I went through the SoPas schools they never had AC and barely had heat, no swimming pool at the HS or olympic track and somehow 98% of us went to college anyway. We weren't coddled in school. We were taught in SoPas schools to stand on our own two feet, make a path where no one else had ever gone before, achieve and excel, be leaders and work hard.

shinn said...

I've also read a lot about how the mere improvement of a district's school supplies delivers dramatic improvements to academic achievement metrics.