`It's like winning the lottery': Partnership for Rhode Island, Infante-Green announce funding for DonorsChoose projects

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Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green paid a visit to Ferri Middle School Monday for an announcement that was kept under wraps for days.

Neither the district’s top leaders, Superintendent of Schools Bernard DiLullo nor Assistant Superintendent Julie-anne Zarrella, nor Ferri’s administration and teachers had any clue what they were going to hear. They couldn’t have been more elated once the news got out.

Infante-Green told assembled students during lunch time that the Partnership for Rhode Island and Brown University board member Theresia Gouw are teaming up to provide funding to every teacher across the state who applied for projects through the national nonprofit DonorsChoose.org. The Partnership consists of a dozen CEOs from the state’s largest companies, ranging from Amica and Citizens Financial Group to FM Global and Gilbane Building Company.

After the applause settled, Infante-Green encouraged students to thank their teachers.

“I’ve been here before. I’ve had the pleasure of being in one of the classrooms, where I was blown away by some of the teachers doing work,” Infante-Green later told the Sun Rise regarding why she chose Johnston as one of two locations for her announcement. “It’s also a district that’s very diverse, and the superintendent is very dedicated to the work, so why not here? This is an ideal place to reflect the needs of all the communities in the state.”

More than $131,000 covering 261 projects across Rhode Island will be fully funded, and there is still $19,000 remaining for teachers to claim. According a spreadsheet provided by RIDE, more than 20 projects in Warwick worth about $8,500 will receive funding, as well as eight in Johnston that cost exceeding $3,400. A couple of requests in Cranston with a cost of more than $1,100 were fulfilled as well.

The Partnership website describes DonorsChoose as a “GoFundMe site for teachers” that “matches individual donors with teachers.” Founder Charles Best introduced Rhode Island to the initiative in 2008.

“It’s fantastic. We’re happy to be here,” Partnership for Rhode Island Executive Director Tom Giordano said. “The companies that I represent, the CEOs that I represent, want their employees to know that we support them from Westerly to Woonsocket and we’re here to add a little bit to the teachers’ pockets to say if you need seating, if you need crayons, if you need a Smartboard and you need it go online, felt like you had to do that, we’re here to help.”

Ferri Middle School received more than $2,000 in funding alone, and the teachers benefiting from the Partnership’s and Gouw’s generosity spoke to the Sun Rise about their plans.

Exploratory Italian teacher Holly Casimiro will purchase bistro furniture for an outdoor cafe. She said that, since students learn quite a bit of vocabulary regarding food, she wanted to give them a real-life experience.

“I would like them to create their own menus,” Casimiro said. “I’ve been doing this project every year with them, and it just kind of grew, because once I started simulating a restaurant, they thrived and then I said, ‘Why not try for this?’ It’s like winning the lottery, really.”

Robin Bishop has developed a reading workshop model that is aimed at encouraging her students “to be more engaged in reading and increase their amount of time reading and their enjoyment of it.” Eighth-grade math teacher Merredith Diodati, meanwhile, wanted to increase her flexible seating this year, but found it to be expensive.

“This year I got a bunch of different game-style seatings,” Diodati said. “The kids are big into video games now, so those, some bands for underneath the desks that the kids can play with, seat cushions. I just really think that to keep these kids in the classroom instead of having them leave and go for walks, we could really kind of ground them more into becoming academically successful.”

Sixth-grade resource teacher Alysa Atkin will use her allotment for licenses from MobyMax, a company whose website says it has won more than 110 awards in the past two years and works to “help struggling learners quickly catch up to grade level and close learning gaps for all your students.”

“So the big push is for the students to be blended learning, so working on devices and then integrating the Common Core standards, so what we are going to use is math integration on MobyMax,” Atkin said. “So it’s an interactive and fun way for the students to be engaged in the Common Core standards on an online platform for them.”

Regardless of what their projects covered, all four teachers agreed on one thing – they never expected to hear that they were going to be funded Monday morning.

“It turned my Monday right around,” Diodati said. “It was definitely a good start to the week.”

“Oh, my gosh, I was so excited,” Bishop said with a laugh. “I did a little dance.”

Despite the Partnership’s magnanimous efforts, Infante-Green said she personally understands that “there’s never going to be enough” for teachers. She recounted a story from her days in the classroom of making friends with an employee at Kinkos because she frequented the store.

“I made friends with that person and I made sure I got everything I needed, whether it was reams of papers or photocopies,” Infante-Green said. “It’s what you do as a teacher. It’s pretty unfortunate … It’s heartwarming, because I think teachers are always asking, and it’s very few times that they just get what they need and what they request, and this is exactly what they requested. Not what somebody decided they needed, so it’s pretty exciting. It’s a good day. It’s a good day in Rhode Island.”

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