The 2021/2022 school year began as yet another tumultuous academic year for U.S. teachers and students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising racism, and increased political incivility. For Giving Tuesday 2021, AdoptAClassroom.org is shining a spotlight on our nation’s innovative teacher heroes who are working hard to combat the negative effects these stressors are having on students’ safety, and academic and social emotional learning.
AdoptAClassroom.org is a national nonprofit that provides classroom donations to PreK-12 teachers and schools throughout the U.S. so they can purchase the school supplies their students need to learn and succeed.
Meet Our Teacher Heroes of 2021
Creating a Positive and Safe Classroom During Uncertain Times
Dominique F., a pre-k teacher in Washington, D.C., built her classroom to be an optimistic and exciting learning space where young learners thrive. She’s managed to keep her classroom a positive learning environment, even while distance learning during a global pandemic, and in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that impacted her community.
When Dominique had to switch her classroom to distance learning in response to COVID-19, she saw it as an opportunity to teach her students in exciting new ways. One of the strategies she used to keep her young learners engaged in their lessons while remote was inviting people into their virtual classroom who have something students can learn from.
“Distance learning has created an opportunity to invite people from pretty much anywhere to join the class. Experts in this field and in that field: we’ve had yoga instructors and martial arts instructors visit. We have NASA coming to visit our classroom, so we ordered some 3D rockets that students can decorate and color,” said Dominique.
Her creative lessons that kept young learners engaged and excited about learning while distance learning helped earn her D.C.’s 2022 Teacher of the Year award. Dominique is currently in the running for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year award.
Dominique not only had to change her lesson plan for distance learning, but also in response to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. She witnessed the anger and tears among parents, students, and school staff members in her D.C. community.
“We all live very, very close to the Capitol. We could hear the sirens. It’s just disheartening,” said Dominique. “The young children, they came to class and said, ‘the capitol!’ They may not be able to fully express it, but they know something is going on and they know it isn’t good.”
To support her students during a difficult time, Dominique pivoted her lesson plan to help her students express how they feel, and to stay positive and united. She spent the week teaching her students about “everything beautiful and positive” about D.C., and incorporating hands-on activities like asking her students to draw sketches of D.C.
“I just want them to know they live in such a special place. No matter what people might try to do to tear it down, to try and bring all of this division, it’s all going to be okay and we still live in a very special place here,” said Dominique. “And now, we are all coming together as a district.”
Creating a safe and positive space in the classroom where learning can thrive during even the most uncertain of times requires school supplies. Throughout Dominique’s teaching career, she has spent more than $10,000 of her own money outfitting her classroom so that her students have access to the materials they need to learn and succeed, no matter the circumstances.
To provide their students with the learning materials they need, teachers like Dominique fundraise for school supplies on AdoptAClassroom.org so they don’t have to do it alone.
“It has been so impactful to see how much money I used to spend to seeing how much money I currently spend now that I received so many donations,” said Dominique. “The donations that I received on AdoptAClassroom.org will support my students in a number of ways. Honestly, it just feels like Christmas every time my students receive new materials.”
For Giving Tuesday 2021, help keep virtual and in-person classrooms a positive safe space where learning flourishes during a difficult time here.
Supporting Freedom of Expression Through the Arts and Social Justice
Tuck W. is a middle school art teacher in Denver, Colorado who began their first year teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. They embraced starting their career distance learning by giving their students freedom in how they expressed themselves through the arts from their homes.
“I took the Studio Habits of Mind approach, which is where you focus on the mindsets that you want students to have, more than an end goal of the project,” said Tuck.
For the students’ first project while distance learning, Tuck asked them to find a famous work of art they like, and learn more about the artist and the artwork they selected. The students then could use what they learned to create art in any medium they wanted. The end result was 30 unique creations. Tuck’s students surprised them with animated videos, art created in Minecraft, and music videos.
“I really want students to have a say in what they do in my class. This helps them find their voice, practice using their voice, and be more proud of what they create at the end,” said Tuck. “When everyone’s projects look the same, there’s less of a sense of, ‘this is mine.’ When I brought them together with these 30 different ideas, they’re much more interested in each other’s work and more invested in their own work.”
Tuck supports their students having a voice in the classroom and beyond. Many of their students are interested in racial equality. To bring this conversation into the art classroom, Tuck is working on lessons about Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists who have advanced the arts. They want to provide their students with a classroom set of the book “Etched in Clay,” a book of poetry about an enslaved potter and poet.
“There are so many BIPOC who advanced the arts, with no credit to their accomplishments. The story of this enslaved artist would help further discussion on the history of this inequality,” said Tuck. “My students are very involved in racial justice here in Denver. We’ve had massive protesting all throughout the summer, and our school has approached the topic head on.”
Due to classroom funding struggles during COVID-19, Tuck didn’t have the classroom budget to purchase a class set of this book, and had to turn to fundraising on AdoptAClassroom.org. When the classroom budget ran out during their first year teaching, Tuck spent upwards of $400 of their own money on classroom materials to ensure students had the resources they needed to express themselves in the arts.
“Like every other school, COVID-19 impacted our budget and our ability to purchase new books,” said Tuck. “Empowerment, for me, is about feeling like you have the ability to make change. I think this starts with empathy and awareness, to cultivate the ability to even recognize what could change to improve our society.”
To help support new teachers with innovative classroom initiatives, you can donate to help provide them with the school supplies they need for Giving Tuesday 2021 here.
Providing Diverse Books That Help Students Love Learning
Suzanne S. is a high school teacher librarian in El Cajon, California, and she has the important role of working with every teacher and student in her school to support the learning process. As a teacher librarian, she provides academic support for students to help them reach their goals, collaborates with the classroom teachers to develop curriculum, and fills the school’s library with a diverse group of books that get students excited about reading and learning.
“If our goal is to have students become engaged readers who are excited about reading, then we need to have them read things that they’re interested in, that they connect with, and that they see themselves reflected in,” Suzanne said.
Suzanne stocks the library with books that reflect her students’ identities so students can access relevant and exciting literature. This includes providing students with multicultural books that represent their cultural background, books written by authors of color, and books with LGBTQ themes. Suzanne sees firsthand how this strategy benefits every student in her school.
“By infusing curriculum with diverse voices, students of color will have the opportunity to see people who may share their identity reflected and represented as valuable, as having a place in school, and as being worthy of academic study,” said Suzanne. “Exposure to diverse materials also benefits students who may not share identities, because it also helps them develop an antiracist understanding and humble compassion, which can only be gained through awareness and recognition of other people and perspectives.”
Another strategy Suzanne uses to find literature that interests students is paying attention to and utilizing the social media channels her students use to discover books. Through social media, she’s found young adult novels, poetry, and even webcomics that have gotten her students excited about reading.
“There are all kinds of unique ways that students are encountering reading,” said Suzanne. “There are a lot of students discovering books through TikTok with BookTok. I’ve just created a collection highlighting the books we have in our library that have been really popular with BookTokers. Students have been coming in contact with different non-traditional publishing voices through Instagram. Poetry that’s on Instagram continues to be popular.”
When Suzanne’s library budget runs out, she spends her own money stocking the school’s library with books that she knows her students would be interested in reading.
“Just like regular classroom teachers, we teacher librarians end up spending our own money too,” said Suzanne. “I have been supporting a group of students who are advocating for teachers to diversify the curriculum. There are teachers open to adding texts featuring voices of those traditionally marginalized, but they have cited lack of funding as a real barrier.”
To help educators provide students with books that will help them become engaged learners, find a classroom to donate to here for Giving Tuesday 2021.
What is Giving Tuesday 2021?
Giving Tuesday is a global day of generosity where we’re all encouraged to unite to set out to do good for a day. When we all come together, donations of any size to a cause you care about make a big impact. Giving Tuesday 2021 is on Nov. 30th, so make sure to mark your calendar so you don’t miss out on a day of giving back.
If education is a cause you support, join AdoptAClassroom.org on Giving Tuesday 2021 to support teachers who are giving it their all to help unite their students and keep them safe and learning during a challenging time in education. On Nov. 30, we’re matching donations made to classrooms and schools on AdoptAClassroom.org. Sign up for our AdoptAClassroom.org supporter newsletter here to receive information about our upcoming classroom donation match.