Growing Our Impact: A Look at DonorsChoose.org
If you roamed the halls of East Kentwood High School, you’d no doubt overhear snippets of some of the 70+ languages spoken there. With nearly 2,000 students representing 60 different countries, East Kentwood is the most diverse high school in Michigan, and 7th most in the United States.
Its multiculturalism is what first drew ceramics instructor, Olivia Miller, to East Kentwood in 2020. As a Fullbright Scholar, Miller studied the integration of the United Nations 2015 “Global Goals’’ in secondary education classrooms. According to the U.N., these goals were designed as a “shared blueprint for dignity, peace, and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” The goals include topics like Quality Education, Good Health & Well-being, Sustainable Cities, and Reduced Inequality.
Miller, who was recently named the NEA’s Global Fellow for Michigan, uses these Global Goals today as themes for ceramics projects at East Kentwood. She’s found that they give students a tangible, creative outlet for engaging issues that impact their lives and community, no matter their background or ability.
“I have kids with special needs and kids that just arrived in the US and don’t know any English. Visual communication is a way to bridge gaps. Anyone can be creative and anyone can contribute. With clay especially, kids don’t have to be so literal, and there’s a lot less criticism. It gives them a chance to use a different part of their brain during the day, and time to move around and giggle and interact with friends. It’s therapeutic while also empowering youth to get involved with the issues they care about.”
Food insecurity is a major issue among the East Kentwood High School student population, with 70% receiving free or reduced lunch. With that in mind, Miller developed an art and activism project in 2022 that focused on the Global Goal of “Zero Hunger.” Students would design a custom mug for a sponsor, with proceeds from sales going to a local food pantry. They would also coordinate and host an event in which they presented the completed mugs to their sponsors.
“This demonstrates to students that they can use their creative talents to make an impact on their peers and community’s quality of living while also learning new skills to create mugs!” Miller explained in her DonorsChoose.org project description.
This year, the Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel (MARSP) and the MARSP Foundation contributed $10,000 in response to teacher requests for assistance through DonorsChoose, including Miller’s goal of $600 towards “Mugs for a Cause.” In total, MARSP members and the Foundation funded 41 projects and impacted 4,000 Michigan students.
“We have helped our working colleagues with similar donations for several years, but now may be the time they need it most,” said MARSP Executive Director Royce Humm, “DonorsChoose.org allows teachers to request funding for special classroom needs, whether its books, equipment or technology. Because it strictly focuses on education, it’s an ideal crowd-funding method that allows us to ‘flash fund’ projects that benefit thousands of students across the state.”
With DonorsChoose.org contributions, Miller was able to purchase quality supplies and adaptive equipment for a project both she and her students hope to grow in the years to come.
“In total, we raised $2000 for Streams of Hope, a local food pantry in the Kentwood area that works with our schools,” said Miller, “The kids really took a lot of ownership of the presentation, too. I facilitated, but they ran the show. Some wrote a speech for Streams of Hope, some presented the money we’d raised, some cleaned and packaged mugs, some designed the packaging, some kept track of finances and receipts, some picked up the coffee, some were the welcoming committee. Each student had a role that played to their strength.”
Next year, Miller envisions her students creating dishware and organizing a dinner in collaboration with their student council. With platforms like DonorsChoose.org and groups like MARSP and the MARSP Foundation prioritizing support for active staff, her vision is sure to bloom and grow.
Pictured below: Mug sponsors/collaborators with the finished pieces!