The best piece of advice Andy Maust said he ever got as a new teacher was when someone suggested he sign up for DonorsChoose.org, a website that helps teacher fund classroom projects.
It was 2008, before crowdfunding was a thing but the New Haven middle school music teacher ran home and signed up right away.
Some 146 funded projects later, it would be an understatement to call Maust an ambassador for the crowdfunding website.
“It has completely transformed the way I teach,” said Maust. “It has made it possible for me to provide instruments for the school that parents can’t afford to rent. I don’t have to turn kids away.”
As of Thursday, DonorsChoose.org will have funded more than 1 million such projects nationwide, according to officials at the New York-based nonprofit which started in 2000.
Not only band instruments, but books, art supplies, technology, paper, class trips and more recently items like coats, food and hand soap.
DonorsChoose.org has funded one million education projects nationwide since it began in 2000.
$8.7 million has been raised for projects in state public schools, with 46 percent coming from out-of-state donors
15,000 projects have been funded state-wide
In Connecticut, the most requested items are books, instructional technology and computers and tablets.
To celebrate the milestone, DonorsChoose.org is matching all donations made by individuals to the 35,000 projects live on the site on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018.
“These million projects represent a million moments where the public told teachers, ‘We’ve got your back.’ said Charles Best, who was a history teacher in the Bronx when he started the concept while looking for a way to buy copies of “Little House On The Prairie” for his students.
The website is now open to public school teachers in all 50 states. Teachers at 77 percent of all the public schools in the country are said to have created classroom project requests.
On the website, Bridgeport school teachers have 177 projects at the moment. New Haven has 130, Danbury teachers have 107 projects posted, Stamford has 60 and Norwalk, 29. In recent years, suburban teachers have also taken to the site with a smattering of projects listed from teachers in Trumbull, Stratford, Shelton, Milford, Ansonia and Derby.
Projects are vetted by DonorsChoose.org staff. Donors get a photo of their project in action, thank-yous from the classroom, and a cost report showing how every dollar was spent.
Many teachers get families and friends to donate, but a network of individual donors, corporations and foundations have also gotten into the act, giving more than $625 million to projects reaching 26 million students.
In Connecticut, more than 15,000 projects have been funded to the tune of $8.7 million. Of that, 46 percent came from out-of-state donors. The most sought after items among Connecticut teachers are books, followed by technology and basics like paper and arts supplies.
Sheena Graham, a music teacher at Harding High School in Bridgeport, has had two dozen projects funded — at $19,147 — and not just for musical instruments. Her current projects include piano books, winter coats, classroom snacks and headphones.
The site, she said, provides so much more than things. She had one project that involved turning students into secret agents who plastered the school with weekly slogans, signs and banners with materials funded by donors. No one else in the school knew where the messages were coming from.
It was a little gesture that has helped improve the climate of the school, Graham said, even among students who initially felt they had no real connection to school.
“There are many problems with our lack of funding for education in Connecticut. DonorsChoose allows me to choose to be part of the solution,” Graham said.
Maust said not all of his projects have been funded — a request for a $4,000 bassoon fell flat — but he did fund a similarly priced tuba.
He recommends teachers start small, with projects that cost under $400 so that they get funded and quicker.
Over the years he has developed a following with a Connecticut doctor he has never met, contributing $10 every time he puts up a project and Katha Pollitt, a former New York Times columnist who he said has contributed to him a dozen of times.
“There are names that pop up frequently that you come to recognize,” Maust said.
To visit the website, go to www.donorschoose.org.