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20 Years, 20 Teachers: 2005–2009

This year marks two decades of teachers using DonorsChoose to bring classroom dreams to life. In our “20 Years, 20 Teachers” series, we’ll be featuring one teacher who had their first projects funded in each year of our history. (Read about teachers from 2000–2004, teachers from 2010–2014, and teachers from 2015–2019.)

2005 through 2009 was a time of expansion and growth for DonorsChoose. We began by opening up to teachers in a few cities beyond New York, like Chicago. After Hurricane Katrina, we opened to schools in the Gulf Coast. By 2008, teachers in every public school across the country were able to use our platform to help give their students more. 

Here’s a look at the teachers who joined us during our biggest expansion.

Hands-On Exploration Inspires a Love of Science

Ms. A’s north star is helping her students fall in love with science. Heading into her first year teaching in Chicago, she was ready to bring her students through a world of experimentation and discovery — but when she walked into her classroom, all she saw were some old science textbooks, tables, and chairs. She knew she needed to find another way to put her pedagogy into practice.

In 2005, Ms. A turned to DonorsChoose — for the first of what would be 250 times — to begin building up the hands-on laboratory she knew her students would thrive in. “DonorsChoose has dramatically changed my method of teaching science enabling my students to physically make connections, which will promote life-long learning, critical thinking, and personal growth.”

With the added challenge of teaching multiple grades, Ms. A uses DonorsChoose to target her instruction to the right level. Her kindergarteners can learn about fundamental engineering ideas using a playground engineering kit, while her 7th graders put those same principles to use building a robot.

Covering the Essentials So Students Can Thrive

When students don’t have the basic care items they need to feel comfortable and confident, it’s hard to focus on a worksheet or presentation. Mr. Boylan recognized that he could make an impact for his Indianapolis students by providing deodorant, toothpaste, socks, winter coats, and other items that no student should go without.

Wanting to support student athletes who may not have access to proper equipment or attire, Mr. Boylan requested sneakers for his 10th grade students. After handing out the shoes, one student came to Mr. Boylan confused. He asked, “How much do I owe you?” After Mr. Boylan shared that the shoes were free, the student responded, “Nothing in life is free.” Mr. Boylan told the student how the shoes were funded through donations on DonorsChoose.

"I will never forget the look on his face that somebody cared enough for him to have free shoes." -Mr. Boylan, DonorsChoose teacher since 2003

By providing basics like these, Mr. Boylan is not only able to give his students tools focussed in class, but also shows students that people across the country care about their success.

Supporting Students and Teachers in the Classroom

A fully-stocked learning environment doesn’t just benefit students; it also helps teachers do their jobs more effectively, spending more time on students. And whether students are learning from home or in the classroom — having resources matters.

Ms. Melissa’s kindergarteners come from homes where there aren’t necessarily a lot of books. Knowing that having books in the home is an indicator of academic success, Ms. Melissa wanted her students to have the same access to new words and stories as their more affluent peers.  Ms. Melissa uses DonorsChoose to provide books for her students to take home so that families can help foster a love of reading.

With more than 450 funded projects under her belt, Ms. Melissa also knows just how much basic classroom supplies can make a teacher’s life easier. For that reason, she’s always looking for ways to help fellow teachers reap the benefits of DonorsChoose. “Any time someone talks about wanting something for their room, I offer to help them post a project,“ she shared.

Building a Symphony for Young Musicians

Fifth grade is a tricky year for a lot of students, especially those who’ve transitioned into middle school. Having a space where students express themselves is key, and music provides that haven for many.

Mr. Maust wants to provide his band with the best equipment so that they can reach their musical potential, but instruments are expensive and time consuming to repair by hand. Inspired by a fellow teacher who had used DonorsChoose to get books for her classroom, Mr. Maust created his first project requesting percussion bells for his band. After that, he was hooked.

While a single instrument may only reach a couple students in a year, the impact can be massive.

"I have a student who got to play tuba, who used playing music as creative outlet for himself, and used band as a way to keep him out of trouble." -Mr. Maust, DonorsChoose teacher since 2008

Mr. Maust also shares the excitement with his students, joining cheers of elation with his young musicians after his requests are funded.

A Single Rug Can Transform a Classroom

When Dr. Pelafigue started teaching in 2009, her New Orleans elementary school was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina five years prior. Her 2nd grade classroom was barebones — just tables and some desks, with no communal space. Teaching and living in a community that continued to experience so much trauma, Dr. Pelafigue knew that creating a space where students could feel safe and supported with each other was essential.

She turned to DonorsChoose. “I still remember the day I told my students that generous donors had chosen to bless our classroom with a large rug of the world.” Not only did the rug create a communal space for students to come together, but it also gave Dr. Pelafigue a chance to connect one-on-one with students. When working with a student dealing with behavioral struggles, Dr. Pelafigue would spend time together on the classroom rug, talking about feelings and how they could work together. Dr. Pelafigue kept in touch with that student through his senior year of high school, still cheering on his success.

As for the rug? It’s since been replaced, but Dr. Pelafigue can’t let that first rug go. “I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. That carpet represents so much: student growth, teacher growth, community growth, and more amazing memories than I can describe.”

Read stories of teachers from 2000–2004.

Read stories of teachers from 2010–2014.

Read stories of teachers from 2015–2019.


On Wednesday, September 16, starting at 7AM EDT, donations to all classroom projects will be doubled in celebration of the DonorsChoose 20th Anniversary. Thank you to the donors, partners, and educators who’ve made these past two decades possible.

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