Two former New York City schoolteachers have taken to heart Teach for America’s intention to create innovators who maintain a commitment to educational equity even after they leave the classroom — they’ve started a nonprofit organization designed to facilitate individual giving to public schools.
Jessica Rauch and Eli Savit, who now live in Michigan, recently won $10,000 in start-up funds in the August competition on IdeaBlob.com, which pits new business ideas against each other in public voting. Their initiative, The Generation Project, aims to “revolutionize educational philanthropy” by facilitating connections between schools and individuals who want to donate to them.
From 2005 to 2007, Rauch taught English language learners at PS 86 in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx; Savit taught 8th-grade social studies at IS 339 in the South Bronx. “As a new teacher, my time was very limited; between lesson planning, after-school tutoring, and graduate school, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to find individualized opportunities for all of my students,” wrote Rauch in an email to GothamSchools. “Although my administration was great and tried hard to expose students to various enrichment activities, I wished there was an easy way to further expand my students’ horizons.” For example, Rauch wrote, one of Savit’s students who had developed an interest in domestic affairs could have attended a program in Washington, D.C., if Savit could easily have found a way to pay for it.
Motivated by their own experiences, Rauch and Savit are working to create a database of prepaid gifts, “shaped by [funders’] own passions and priorities,” that schools and teachers can apply to receive. This approach represents an inversion of the one taken by the popular website DonorsChoose.org, where potential donors browse funding requests from teachers who have identified particular needs for their classroom.
“DonorsChoose is awesome, but it serves a different role for under-resourced schools than we propose,” Rauch wrote. While DonorsChoose helps make up “funding shortfalls in the classroom,” The Generation Project aims to expose students to new experiences outside the classroom, often while developing and exploring their own interests. “As a teacher, there was no way I could research and design cool opportunities for all my individual students,” wrote Rauch, but if existing opportunities were easy to find — and fund — she would have had no trouble connecting her students to ones appropriate for them. And under The Generation Project’s model, Rauch noted, teachers won’t wind up planning a great project, only to find themselves unable to execute it; instead, they’ll be able to organize their curriculum planning around opportunities that already exist. Finally, Rauch and Savit hope that because Generation Project donors will be personally invested in the projects they fund, they will be more likely to build relationships with their recipients and give again.
With the IdeaBlob money, Rauch and Savit plan to build up The Generation Project’s website. Over at IdeaBlob, the September new-business competition is in full swing; contenders include plenty of education-related projects.