By Josh Akeman
As a Visual Art teacher at Ronald E. McNair High School, a Title 1 school in Dekalb County, Pauline Weisz was working with two potter's wheels and a lack of funds to get the modern technology necessary to teach her students about digital media.
Weisz, who lives in Brooks, made some requests for funds to purchase digital cameras and other equipment so she could help her students in the Visual Arts Career Pathway. Her Principal Loukisha Walker informed her that, unfortunately, it could not be fit into the budget.
"I'm at a Title 1 school and the funds are just not even there," Weisz, "I put in a big request to the Principal and, you know, there's just no money."
Having taught for 35 years mostly at private schools where funding is more plentiful, Weisz found it tough to take the news that her students would have to continue to go without.
Principal Walker, however, found out about a charitable crowd funding website called www.donorschoose.org where teachers could submit classroom project ideas and receive donations from individuals and often corporate donors. Walker encouraged all her teachers in an e-mail to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I just went right for it," Weisz said, "I started out with a small project and AT&T picked it up right away." That project came to fruition with a new mural for the school.
After that success, Weisz hoped to get her digital media project funding, but it sputtered along with little support. She was about to give up on it a few weeks ago when she got a call on a Friday.
"I didn't even think that anything would come of my project, which was online for a long time. I almost deleted the project and then I got that call and said oooh, my God," Weisz laughs.
She'd gotten the news that Staples, in partnership with pop star Katy Perry, had chosen her project along with 76 other teachers' projects in the metro Atlanta area.
Not only would she be getting the money for her project, but Weisz was also invited, along with a student of her choice, to Saturday's Katy Perry concert at Philips Arena, part of her Prismatic World Tour.
Weisz brought along her Principal and chose Tiara Brooks, a rising senior, as her student.
"She's just a big part of the school," Weisz said of Brooks, "She's just a great speaker and a great student and artist."
They all got to go backstage to meet and take a picture with Perry.
"We went to the concert and IT WAS AMAZING," Weisz gushed. "The first thing [Tiara] said to Katie Perry was 'Can we trade clothes?' Katy said 'Yeah, how bout right now?' She just talked it up, she loved it, loved it, loved it. These are things they would not normally do, the kids that go to the school. It's very high poverty... I reach out all the time to see what I can bring to the kids."
Now Weisz has the digital cameras, photo editing software, printers, and tripods she wanted for her students, and she's excited to see what they can do with them.
"These kids are good kids, they just come from tough stuff in their lives," Weisz said, "There are very positive things going on in the school. This past year we had a number of things that kids got to do that they hadn't been able to do in the past. Our new principal, Ms. Walker, has them doing some fun things."
She's very thankful that something like donorschoose.org exists and thanked Staples and Katy Perry as well.
"Things wouldn't happen otherwise," Weisz said of the funding that the program has provided. "There's no families in the community that can be this generous. It's hard to accept being told no and this program has just turned that around so much for our school, and its done so for other schools too. You can go on [the website] and see all the Title 1 schools that are just crying out for materials."
The Katy Perry partnership with Staples donated $128,158 in all for projects that went to 77 teachers in Atlanta public schools, effecting an estimated 8,779 students.