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West Jordan Journal

Donations provide win-win for teachers, students

Feb 06, 2023 02:43PM ● By Jet Burnham

Items range in price so that students can find something to buy with their Astro Bucks at Columbia Elementary School’s school store. (Photo courtesy of Melinda Carpenter)

How do you encourage good student behavior?

A chicken hat was the incentive for one student.

Columbia Elementary implemented a new positive behavior system this year in which students earn Astro Bucks for good behavior. 

“When we see good behavior, we can just hand them Astro Bucks, so the kids know that we're always looking for those positives,” instructional coach Melinda Carpenter said.

Students save their money to spend at the school store, which is open for one week each month. While other students are motivated by being able to buy a bag of Takis, a toy skateboard or a Dog Man book, for one fifth grader, it was a chicken hat that encouraged him to follow school rules and show respect to others.

Store merchandise ranges from candy and soda to stuffed animals and holiday items. Unique items, such as the chicken hat, are often donated by teachers. Last month, the principal and some teachers donated autographed framed pictures of themselves.

“It has been fun to listen to the students talk about how they are saving their money for one specific item and want to know desperately how much our pictures are priced at so they can make sure they have enough money to buy it,” third grade teacher Angela Drope said. “It has been a good lesson in saving and earning.”

Drope said her students have really bought-in to the incentive program.

“It gives them something to look forward to each month,” she said. “There is really no limit to how many teachers can give out. We just try and reserve the larger $5 and $10 amounts for spectacular events. For example, at Christmas time, I gifted them all $10 Astro Bucks. You would have thought I gave them real money.”

Carpenter relies heavily on donations to keep the store stocked with items kids like, to ensure the positive behavior program remains effective. Much of the store merchandise has been donated by parents, teachers and local businesses such as Walgreens and Smith’s Marketplace. Carpenter also recently received a grant from the Association of American Educators Foundation.

Donations help fund programs such as the school store, but Carpenter said most teachers rely on donations to simply run their classrooms.

“The school gives you a set of headphones every year at the beginning of the year and you're lucky if they last three or four months, and then your kids don't have headphones for any of your computer things that you do,” Carpenter said.

Because schools have limited budgets for classroom supplies, once they run out, teachers must pay for materials out-of-pocket, ask for donations or apply for grants.

Jordan District teachers can apply for an annual classroom grant through the Jordan Education Foundation. Other grants available to teachers can be too specific or have a tedious application process, Carpenter said. Many teachers opt to use the user-friendly DonorsChoose, an online crowdfunding platform which was created by a public school teacher in 2000.

According to the DonorsChoose website, teachers at 87% of the nation’s public schools have posted a project on the site, and $1,412,484,851 has been spent helping teachers fund their classrooms.

Several Columbia Elementary teachers currently have requests listed through DonorsChoose. Drope uses DonorsChoose regularly to provide basic classroom supplies such as snacks and art supplies, more expensive items such as wobbly stools and a color printer, and materials for special activities such as glow sticks and candy.

“I used M&Ms to help with identifying and writing fractions,” Drope said. “One of my students yelled, ‘Mrs. Drope!! Fractions are delicious!’ If they were excited about M&Ms, wait until we get to the Hershey bars.”

The Hershey bars are part of Drope’s next DonorsChoose request.

Drope said much of her support comes from family and friends who find it easy to donate through the online platform. Some of her projects have been fully funded by the Panda Cares Foundation and Jordan Education Foundation.

Drope is appreciative of the support and posts a thank you note each time one of her projects is funded, which often only takes one day.

“The gratitude of strangers warms our hearts. We cannot be successful without your generosity and the love for my students that you don't even know,” she wrote after her project for snacks and glow sticks was fully funded.