When you walk into Johanna Paraiso’s sixth grade English classroom at Willard Middle School, you will find students reading together — looking for details and themes in the stories they read that others might not have picked up on.
Paraiso strives to foster a community of “book folk,” allowing her students to choose the authors that speak to them the most. To accomplish this, she is crowdfunding on DonorsChoose — a platform allowing educators to raise funds — to provide books for her students.
“When you walk into our space here, you are seeing young people who are having conversations about books and about what they are reading in a way that is very authentic and wonder seeking,” Paraiso said.
She launched a few crowdfunding campaigns in the past month to ease the financial burden off her school, including one that launched Monday to purchase a class set of Kwame Alexander’s novel, “Booked.”
For Paraiso, it is vital that her students read stories written by diverse authors who represent them, noting that sixth graders are at an “impressionable” age.
“My list of books are definitely texts that are not by the traditional, canonical white male author,” Paraiso said. “They are all authors of color, authors with whom my students can see a bit of themselves in.”
Amy Rocha, a teacher at Malcolm X Elementary School, similarly set up a crowdfunding campaign to purchase tools to build a sensory room for her students with disabilities.
Rocha said Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, is a full-inclusion district that integrates students with disabilities into the general education classroom, and the supplies she is crowdfunding for will help enhance their learning experiences.
“We feel like students need a space to get sensory input, different ways to calm them so they are able to go back into the classroom and access the curriculum,” Rocha said.
Some of the supplies Rocha is crowdfunding for include bubble tubes that help calm students, fidget toys and sensory tiles.
While Rocha said she receives a substantial budget, crowdfunding helps her meet additional needs.
“Teachers use crowdfunding often to raise money for specific projects and field trips,” said Matt Meyer, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. “If you need more than basic supplies, getting money from your (Parent Teacher Association), crowdfunding or buying them yourself is typically how you meet these needs.”
Paraiso said crowdfunding grants her the freedom to pursue creative projects for her students, since using school funds comes with certain restrictions.
She was fundraising for a STEM crossover project in her English class, where students would build a 3D community map of small solar-powered houses with their poetry written on the walls.
“When I think about crowdfunding, I really am appealing to donors that want to be able to give to something that matters,” Paraiso said. “I want to see my students excel and I think that this is one of the ways I can do it.”