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BLOOMINGTON — Thousands of teachers across the country, including some in Central Illinois, received a surprise last week.

Ripple, a cryptocurrency company based in San Francisco, donated $29 million to pay for every project requested by teachers on DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit, crowdfunding website where public school teachers can request donations to fund classroom projects.

Dozens of Central Illinois classrooms, from Dwight to Decatur, were impacted by the donation that funded 35,000 projects in the U.S.

At Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Bloomington, Andrea Lenz recently submitted a $560 request on the website for flexible seating her first-grade classroom, including elastic bands for chair legs, stability balls, inflatable cushions and floor seats.

She also requested a large working table for collaboration and an Amazon Echo to help students with research and to play music.

Ripple and DonorsChoose made the announcement on a late-night episode of Stephen Colbert last week.

“My jaw dropped, my heart exploded and I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that my classroom had been funded and that my kids were going to get flexible seating to help them learn. I just felt so thankful and excited for my kids,” said Lenz.

Meanwhile, at Centennial Elementary School in Streator, requests for nearly $3,500 in classroom projects were granted for Khrystal Schaffner’s special education students.

“I had seven projects up at the time. When they made the announcement, I felt disbelief and excitement. Nobody has ever done that before. I felt thankful somebody would do that for all our students,” said Schaffner.

Her requests included classroom snacks, basic learning materials, adaptive PE equipment for students with special needs, shelving and a “bee hotel” for insect education.

Like many, our district is struggling financially. They try to give teachers a budget every year to buy classroom materials, but it’s really small. I have all these creative ideas and the only way to fund them is through DonorsChoose,” said Schaffner, who has used the website in the past for projects.

While completing her first year as a teacher at Cedar Ridge, Lenz said she discovered that “all teachers spend their own money to provide for their students.”

“Teachers have a bare minimum of resources to successfully teach students in ways they have learned are best practice. We are often given an outline of what to teach and then a lot of times it’s up to us to find the best resources to help facilitate learning,” she said.

The opportunity available for teachers through DonorsChoose takes the cost burden off of teachers, added Lenz, especially first-time educators.

I feel a lot of negativity is being brought into our field and not much is being done to fix any of these problems that we have been begging to have fixed for years,” said Lenz. “To see that an organization funded something that immediately helps classrooms, I just felt like Ripple really made a difference more than they may even know.”

Schaffner agrees that the website is a blessing for teachers, especially in districts facing financial strains.

“It helps me feel a little more appreciated. I think it encourages me to look for more creative ideas to put into my classroom, knowing people are out there who want to fund those ideas,” she said.

Since Ripple paid for the 35,000 projects last week, Schaffner said more teachers at her school have been inspired to submit requests and several have already been funded.

“It started a ripple effect. I’ve been getting a lot more donations since it happened,” said Schaffner. “A dollar here and a dollar there really add up.”

Donors interested in funding projects at local school districts can visit www.donorschoose.org and search for Pantagraph-area schools.

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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