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Blue Ridge Elementary Teacher Receives Gates Foundation Funds to Promote Early Literacy

posted May 4, 2017, 5:54 AM by Deborah Wickliffe   [ updated May 4, 2017, 7:42 AM ]
Teachers are problem solvers with creative minds. However, identifying the problem and funding the solution are two different things. Recently, Ms. McGaha at Blue Ridge Elementary considered how she could help her pre-kindergarten students develop literacy skills when some of them had no books at home. She developed a project that included buying books, providing a small bookshelf and working with parents on simple reading lessons. She dubbed the project “Raising Readers” and then listed it on a popular education fundraising site, 

“Raising Readers was funded at the $1800 I had listed,” Ms. McGaha says, “and I started planning how to move forward. Then I received an email from Donors Choose saying they had entered my project in a contest sponsored by the Gates Foundation that identifies select innovative early literacy ideas.” 

She promptly forgot about it until she received an email saying Raising Readers had made the first cut of 50 out of 600 projects submitted nationwide. Then the weeding out process began. 

“It was crazy,” she laughed. “I would be sitting in my school office in Seneca doing a phone interview with the Gates Foundation and Donors Choose representatives in New York!” 

Ms. McGaha was recently notified that Raising Readers was selected as one of only three projects nationwide to be awarded $10,000. Ms. McGaha and Lisa Simmons, school principal, started planning the project and buying supplies. 

As a further incentive, Donors Choose encourages teachers to duplicate their projects in other classrooms, making those other classrooms eligible for other corporate matches.  Ms. McGaha spread her idea throughout Blue Ridge Elementary School. 
“By using the generosity of the corporate match opportunities,” she said, “we increased the materials we were able to purchase as a school. We ended up almost doubling our money to spend on books and bookshelves for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade classes at Blue Ridge.” 

“As a school,” said Lisa Simmons, principal, “Blue Ridge Elementary will analyze the results of the project to see how to continue and what could be changed for improvement. We are excited at the opportunities this will provide for our students, especially our at-risk students.” 

“How will we fund it in the future? Good question. I am sure we will be looking for community partners in order to continue this outreach with our families,” she said. “Raising Readers in the School District of Oconee County means a better Oconee County for all of us. I hope the community understands the importance of this project.” 

Ms. McGaha stressed that Donors Choose is untapped potential for teachers to communicate their unfunded projects to the community. Large corporations, such as Duke Energy, watch for projects that address their interests, such as STEM ideas. Clemson University watches the site for projects as well and has funded several technology requests in the area. The site is also a good place for the community to go to help SDOC schools better serve students. 

Several SDOC teachers are preparing to distribute the piles of books and bookshelves, along with pre-reading suggestions, to parents of young students at Blue Ridge Elementary School.  This program became a reality through the generosity of the Gates Foundation, the availability of a website called Donors Choose, and the idea of one teacher who dreamed of providing books for her students.