Donor Teacher RequestsChoose Spike for SEL and Mental Health Resources

Sarah McMaster’s Grade 4 class is unlike most.

Instead of desks lined up in the same direction, it has different types of furniture for students to sit on. There are swinging stools, benches, a sofa and even a swing. It has a sensory wall, stuffed animals, whiteboards and spaces where students can bubble, color and journal.

“Every time someone comes here I’m like, ‘I know this is a little crazy,'” said McMaster, who has taught at Horizon Academy West in Albuquerque, NM, for 19 years. “But it’s fun and the kids have fun.”

McMaster did not purchase all of the furniture and supplies with its own money. Instead, she got them from people funding the projects she submitted to the crowdfunding site DonorsChoose.

McMaster’s classroom funding approach is not unique. Requests for teacher donations for supplies to help students develop social-emotional learning skills and improve their mental health have nearly doubled since 2020, according to data from DonorsChoose.

Schools place much greater emphasis on social-emotional learning and student well-being over the past few years to help stem growing concerns about mental health problems, behavior problemsand the life skills students need to succeed in school and in their future careers.

There has been a steady increase in the number of project submissions for social-emotional learning resources, according to data provided to Education Week by DonorsChoose.

For the school years ending in 2020 and 2021, approximately 45,000 and 47,000 requests were submitted, respectively, for social-emotional learning resources. The 2021-2022 school year saw the highest number of applications yet for this category, with 71,960 projects.

And so far this school year, there have been nearly 25,000 project submissions for social-emotional learning resources.

Project submissions for resources in the “health, sports and wellness” category – which includes mental health, health and wellness, and fitness – have also increased steadily since the 2019-20 school year. :

  • 27,283 projects in 2019-20,
  • 33,089 projects in 2020-21,
  • 57,530 projects in 2021-22,
  • and 16,863 projects to date in 2022-23.

McMaster’s goal with the projects she submitted to DonorsChoose was to help create an engaging classroom environment and ensure her students had “resources to help them feel calm and peaceful.”

“At the end of the day, you can’t teach anyone anything if they’re not in the mindset to learn,” McMaster said. “So I started researching how to create different spaces in the room that would be a draw whether you were having a good day or a bad day.”

Research has shown that students need to feel secure and emotionally stable in order to learn and perform at their best. The types of skills students learn in SEL courses include managing emotions and making good decisions, skills that contribute to a healthier learning environment.

Tonya Coats, a 2nd grade teacher at Rustic Lane Elementary School in Riverside, Calif., also used DonorsChoose to request SEL-related supplies.

“I feel like art supplies have been a major way to foster this positive mental health relationship with kids,” Coats said.

“It was a great way to help them explore their creativity. It gives them a moment to breathe,” especially with the push to close academic gapsshe added.

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