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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, July 26, 2014

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For just a few bucks, you can make a difference in Milwaukee classrooms.
For just a few bucks, you can make a difference in Milwaukee classrooms.

Lending a hand ... a few bucks at a time

One of the best emails I've gotten so far this month arrived from a teacher I don't know, at an MPS school I've never visited.

"Dear Bobby Tanzilo," it read, "My students have really enjoyed using their new dictionaries! They are taking pride in learning new words. I have one student who is basically a non-reader, but he is learning to read new words by matching pictures to words. It's one of his favorite activities to do with a partner.

"We just finished a writing prompt and I was very impressed with my students' final copies. They really scoured the dictionaries to find new words. When correcting the other third grade class' work, I noticed that their words were not nearly as colorful.

"With gratitude,
Ms. T"

I get these every month or so. The best ones arrive with pictures, too; like the ones Ms. T sent with her message. These show a class of 8-year-old MPS kids working with their new dictionaries.

The books were purchased with money raised from ordinary folks like you and me on DonorsChoose.org. In December, six donors pledged $577 to buy dictionaries for Ms. T's class (some obviously gave way more than I did!). In late August, 10 days before the first day of class, she set up the project, writing...

"'Look it up.' As a child, my parents and teachers empowered me to find the answer to my questions instead of just telling me. I want to empower my students as well. Right now I have about 10 dictionaries that are not appropriate for my students. A class set will empower my students to learn.

"I cannot wait for this school year to begin! I have a class of curious, funny, eager to learn 8-year-olds. They question everything! These students just soak up knowledge and want to know more. I am so excited to teach them!"

Every now and again I visit the DonorsChoose site and search for a project at an MPS school that looks like it has a chance of getting fully funded and I make a donation.

It's usually a relatively small amount and it's the feeling of a bunch of us chipping in – working together – to fund a good project that I like best. (That, and doing a small part to help Milwaukee's students and teachers get what they need, of course.) Like Kickstarter, you only pay if the total amount is raised.

Only once have I donated to a project at my child's school. A couple times I've given to projects that a neighbor of mine, who is a teacher, has posted for her classroom.

Another time I gave to a language school attended by my nephew. Still other times, I just picked a school or a project that hit home for some reason. I liked Ms. T's project because it was aimed at helping kids boost their reading and writing skills.

After I post this, I'm going back to DonorsChoose to make another pledge. I'm hoping to find something at a school that I often drive past, like, say, Siefert. But I'll take a minute to look around and see what's out there before I decide.

Maybe you'd consider doing the same thing today. Every little bit helps and you can have the satisfaction of seeing your contribution at work via notes and photographs straight from the classroom.

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