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Port Townsend math teacher turns to crowdfunding to round out grant, district money for buying computers

posted Nov 5, 2014, 12:36 AM by J Shaw   [ updated Nov 5, 2014, 12:37 AM ]
PORT TOWNSEND — Confronted with a deficit of funds and learning, a middle-school teacher is employing a combination of grants, district money and crowdfunding to raise the roughly $9,000 needed to acquire tools for her math classes.

Melinda Pongrey, who was hired as Blue Heron Middle School’s eighth-grade math teacher on Oct. 13, needs 30 Chromebooks — inexpensive laptops designed for Internet use — to allow easier access to a website for learning math.

“Right now the textbooks we have aren’t enough for the kids to meet Common Core standards, so I wanted to get them what they needed to learn,” Pongrey said of the Khan Academy website, which she is using as a supplemental learning tool.

“As students build their skills and confidence through Khan, my plan is to then integrate creative projects and real­ world problems of interest to middle-school students.”

Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational organization founded in 2006 by educator Salman Khan. Its mission involves “changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere,” according to its website.

The school was left without an eighth grade math teacher at the beginning of the school year after Sarah Rubenstein left the post to become general manager of the Maritime Discovery Initiative. 

For the first seven weeks of the school year, the class was taught by a substitute — which was not an ideal situation, Pongrey said. 

When she took over, 42 percent of the students were failing the class, and 43 percent did not meet state standards, according to testing last spring. 

“Students were discouraged and parents were anxious about failing grades,” she said, adding there has already been an improvement in math ability and interest since she took over the class.

“In two weeks, students are beginning to change their behavior,” she said. 

“All of a sudden, they realize they can do a little bit of math and then they do a little bit more.” 

Students are sharing laptops, but there aren’t enough to go around and their two-hour battery life causes them to lose power in the middle of solving problems, Pongrey said. 

The new machines would be permanently allocated to Pongrey’s classroom so she would not have to depend on the generosity of other teachers, although she could loan them out at her own discretion. 

Aside from the laptops, Pongrey needs a $500 storage cart and other accessories, she said.

Last week, Khan Learning awarded Pongrey a $1,500 grant for the purchase of the Chromebooks, which was combined with $3,000 allocated by the school district from a technology levy. 

This raised about half of what’s needed for the entire purchase.

To raise the rest, Pongrey has set up a contributor’s page on, a crowdfunding website designed to raise money for classrooms. 

As a new school to the site, Pongrey is allowed to request only $2,000, but when that is raised, she can request the additional $2,500. 

She is optimistic about raising the entire amount, saying that several parents have already expressed their intention to contribute. 

Additionally, large corporations pay attention to the DonorsChoose site and often “flash fund” the topics they deem worthwhile. 

With the available funds, Pongrey has already ordered 19 Chromebooks, Samsung machines that cost around $230 each, that will be configured and placed in the classrooms in the next few weeks with the remainder purchased as funds become available.

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