In May 2019, we launched #ISeeMe, a campaign that supported classroom project requests on DonorsChoose created by teachers of color, women math and science teachers, and teachers of all backgrounds who request materials that reflect their students’ identities, in partnership with Google.org. This campaign was inspired by research that shows that students benefit when they see themselves in their teachers and in their learning materials.
Five months later, we’re thrilled to share the impact that this campaign has had so far. Our community funded over 18,000 projects, supporting over 13,000 teachers and creating opportunities for over 1.5 million students across the country.
One teacher’s insight into why representation matters
Genein Letford, a former music teacher and a DonorsChoose board member, shared how meaningful she found #ISeeMe and instantly knew the impact it would have inside the classroom.
The first day on an instrument is rough. Clarinets squeak, trumpets wildly blare and flutes mimic the wind - no sound - just wind.
As frustration sets in for my students, I quiet the classroom and let them watch a recording of the young Venezuela Youth Orchestra, with many musicians still in their early teens. They see these kids playing masterfully. They see the end result of getting past day one. I then bring out books I have received through DonorsChoose that feature student musicians who look like them, who speak like them, who live like them.
They see themselves. And they think, “I SEE ME!”
I do this on purpose. Of course, I bring in diverse art contributors ranging from women composers and conductors from various backgrounds. But I am also strategic to show them people who look like them. Young people who are excellent at their craft who have similar conditions to deal with but still, somehow how found the beautiful power of music.
For my students to see themselves in our curriculum is to see themselves as a part of the story, a part of our history and, more importantly, a part of our future. To be keenly aware of what is possible. My students know that their experience is validated when I take initiative to bring in curriculum elements they can connect with.
And that’s why, as a DonorsChoose board member and a teacher who has utilized resources from my community donors for over ten years, I deeply identify with the #ISeeMe campaign and the impact it has on student engagement, student empowerment, and student success.
Students across the country are already benefiting from #ISeeMe
Teachers who were funded through #ISeeMe saw the same level of student inspiration that happened in Genein’s class. Mrs. Sheehan and Mrs. Macke noticed how their new diverse books and music became a springboard for classroom discussions.
While we're reading, students feel safe asking questions and sharing information about their countries. From them I hear a lot of “Miss, miss, this is what it looked like in my country!"
Students need to see themselves reflected in the music we play, so I intentionally select inclusive music from around the world, representative of many cultures, and from minority, female and LGBTQ+ composers so my students see themselves in the music we perform.
#ISeeMe continues to inspire the DonorsChoose team
At DonorsChoose, we strive to be as diverse as the students and teachers we serve and are constantly reinspired by this campaign’s impact. Partnership Director Kristina (Steen) Joye Lyles, who helped create the #ISeeMe campaign, shared what the campaign means to her.
#ISeeMe has taught me that there’s so much that we can learn from underrepresented teachers, especially teachers of color, in our classrooms. My hope for this campaign is that we continue to find innovative ways to leverage the identity of students and teachers in the classroom because I know firsthand just how powerful that can be for a kid who looks like me in today’s public schools.