Rachel Sanoff
February 08, 2017 6:02 pm
Image Source via Getty Images

Yesterday, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as our new Secretary of Education — despite having never gone to public school, having never sent her children to public school, having never worked in education, not having a degree in education, not being aware of the most prominent issues in public education curriculum, and claiming that guns should be allowed in schools to defend kids against grizzly bears. She won’t say whether she will uphold the Title IX guidances protecting student sexual assault survivors. She doesn’t support public schools. She wouldn’t give a straight answer when asked if she would uphold the policies protecting students from corrupt for-profit colleges. Her education mission is to “advance God’s Kingdom” — she said it herself.

But Betsy DeVos is a billionaire, and her family has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the GOP — including many of the Senators who voted to confirm her. The Senate voted 50-50, and in an unprecedented action, Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie.

Public education urgently needs our support. Here are some ways that you can help.

Image Source via Getty Images

1Support your teacher friends.

If any of your friends on Facebook are K-12 public school teachers, you have likely seen them post crowdfunding initiatives, asking for help providing their students with the resources that they need and deserve. From books, to art supplies, to calculators, to laptops, to stimulating and informative classroom decorations — underpaid teachers regularly use their own money to create effective learning environments in underfunded schools. Next time your teacher friends post their GoFundMe pages, don’t scroll past them. If you have the financial means or possess the requested supplies, donate. And if you don’t, share the pages on all your social networks.

2Support teachers you don’t know.

You don’t have to wait for a teacher friend to post a GoFundMe page. DonorsChoose.org helps you find teachers anywhere in the country who need help providing their students with necessary classroom resources. You can search by region and urgency, and find projects that you especially want to be part of.

3Stay connected to teachers’ unions.

Teachers’ unions are at the forefront of the fight against policies that harm workers and students in public education. Keep your eye on what the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is doing by visiting their action page. You’ll find petitions to sign, protests to join, and newsletters to subscribe to. And since acting locally allows you to make the most direct impact, you can find local chapters of the AFT here. Reach out and ask how you can assist the teachers and students in your community.

4Support arts education in public schools.

When schools are subjected to budget cuts, arts programs are often the first things to go. And with a Secretary of Education who doesn’t support public schools and a President who reportedly desires to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, we need to vigilantly protect these programs even more than we already do. Based in Los Angeles, The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation is one of the national organizations you can help. By providing musical instruments to underfunded K-12 schools (that frequently serve economically-disadvantaged kids), music programs are able to survive. Go here to donate a new or gently-used instrument and learn how to volunteer, and go here to give a monetary donation.

You can also reach out to the art departments at public schools in your area, ask what they need, and help fulfill those requests — maybe its acrylic paints, a ballet barre, or copies of scripts for a school play

5Help protect school diversity and students of color.

The National Coalition on School Diversity is an organization comprised of state- and local-level coalitions, academic researchers, and national civil rights organizations with a focus on policy work that “[promotes] school diversity and [reduces] racial and economic isolation in elementary and secondary schools.” Support their efforts with a donation here.

6Make sure all students have access to books.

First Book is a nonprofit organization whose sole mission is getting books and classroom resources to children from low-income schools. First Book has already “distributed more than 160 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families.” Provide a monetary donation here, help them fundraise here, and sign up for updates here.

7Help schools in need get technology in the classroom.

The National Cristina Foundation encourages folks to donate working computers and electronics they no longer use, and they especially serve “people with disabilities, students at risk and persons who are economically disadvantaged.” The Cristina Foundation works with schools that provide technology training programs, and will connect you to other nonprofits that help students access technology in the classroom. Go here to learn how to donate needed working electronics to affiliated organizations.

8Support tutoring services for kids in underfunded schools.

826 National may sound familiar to you. It was co-founded by famous author, Dave Eggers, and is supported by many of your favorite comedians from Upright Citizens Brigade. The nonprofit — which has seven local chapters — tutors K-12 students in reading and writing. Working primarily with students from economically-disadvantaged areas, volunteers and staff help foster reading comprehension and creativity in kids, and help high school seniors write their personal statements for college applications. Go here to donate to 826 National, and if you live in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Michigan, D.C., or NYC, go here to learn how to donate and volunteer with your local 826.

9Fight back against unfair standardized testing practices.

Standardized testing has repeatedly been found to have a racial bias, and in turn negatively impacts the amount of funding available to already underfunded schools serving mostly students of color. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing — also called FairTest — actively works to change policies surrounding unfair testing practices. Go here to donate to their efforts, and go here to learn how you can help organize testing reform in your community.

10Help economically-disadvantaged kids get to college.

Project GRAD helps prepare K-12 students in public schools for high school graduation, and assists them as they apply to college. Donate here to help them achieve their mission, through donations or volunteering.

11Once again, act locally.

Find local nonprofits that benefit public schools in your community — a quick Google search will show you what’s in your area. In New York City, you can work with the Fund for Public Schools. I live in LA, and have been lucky enough to volunteer with WriteGirl and Reading to Kids — two incredible organizations focused on creative writing and literacy, respectively.

Do you have kids in public school? Join the parent-teacher association. Did you go to a public high school? Join the alumni association so you can stay up to date with current fundraisers and initiatives. Live near an elementary school or junior high? Stop by the front office and ask if they need any volunteers for after-school programs.

#Resist.

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