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Va. teacher funds classroom library online

Friday - 8/16/2013, 4:36pm  ET

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Teacher Karen Magestad looks through her library, organized by reading level at Patrick Henry Elementary. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Classroom essentials funded by friends and strangers

Megan Cloherty, WTOP reporter

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ARLINGTON, Va. - Teaching kids a love of reading is her passion.

But in her third year teaching fourth grade reading at a Title I school in Arlington County, Karen Magestad says she couldn't justify spending hundreds of dollars to bulk up her classroom library. Instead, she asked strangers to do it.

"My library is growing. But it's not all of it at the fourth grade level. Instead of spending my own money this summer, I decided to approach Donors Choose," Magestad says.

Magestad, a teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary, put in an application on DonorsChoose.org, listing each book specifically by title, so donors knew what they were purchasing for her.

The nearly $300 request was met by family, friends and strangers in five days. Despite the positive response, there was the chance her project wouldn't be funded and she'd start the year with an old library.

"I was terrified because, to me, $300 is a lot of money. But then when you think, 'I'll give $10 to someone for a good cause,'" Magestad says. "If I had 10 people giving $10, you're already a third of the way there."

Magestad now has 40 new books for her students, who she says rarely have libraries of their own at home. It was partly funded by people she doesn't know.

"There was actually a guy in Nevada who gave. He just said, 'Thank you for instilling reading in kids now,'" Magestad says.

The average classroom needs about $1,000 of supplies each year, and $485 of that comes straight out of the teacher's pocket, according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association.

About 40 percent is for instructional materials and 30 percent for school supplies. The other 30 percent covers miscellaneous classroom materials.

Lacking supplies in the classroom is an common problem that teachers shouldn't have to pay for, says Liz Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union.

"At the end of the day, when they plan their lesson for the next day, they don't want to hear any reasons from the principal that, 'Well, we don't have that, we're going to put that on order,'" she says.

"They need it right away. So they'll just go to Office Depot and Staples."

Teachers often borrow supplies from other classrooms, even other schools, Davis says. She's not surprised many are turning to online requests for support.

"Organizations like Donors are the saving grace for teachers," Davis says.

"I'm so excited there are more of them cropping up because that lets me know there are more people interested in public education than we know."

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