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LEADERS IN THE FIELD: Jamie Rosenberg & Adopt-A-Classroom

November 20, 2009

Have you ever had a teacher that has changed your life? Most of us have had at least one. One of the things few people know is that teachers spend a lot of their own money on school supplies – amounting to $1,200 a year. It’s akin to arriving to your first day of work and then finding out you have to buy your own laptop and chair.

Our country’s 3.8 million teachers are the ones in charge of our future generations and are responsible for 90% of the variation in student achievement. With so much responsiblity and so few resources, it’s no wonder that 50% of teachers leave the profession after five years of teaching. Yes, 50%.

So what to do? One non-profit based in Miami has part of the solution: provide teachers with the resources they need to help their students succeed. Adopt-A-Classroom makes it possible for you to adopt any teacher in the country at a public or private school.  Any teacher. You designate the school and teacher through the organization’s web site, they get a notification of their adoption, and they can spend your donation on school supplies: from crayons for drawing in the art room to rats for dissecting in the biology lab. You get a tax donation, the teacher gets what she needs.

To find out more about the organization, we sat down with its Founder and Executive Director, Jamie Rosenberg.

Q: So you started out as a lawyer, why the switch to running a nonprofit?

While I found the work as a lawyer challenging and intellectually stimulating, I felt very unfulfilled professionally.  When I began to start thinking about a different direction in my life, I decided I wanted to be connected with something positive and ideally helping children.  A nonprofit was a logical extension.

Q:  How did you first come up with the idea for AAC? What piece of advice do you wish you had when you were beginning?

While practicing law, I was mentoring a student in a nearby school for mentally and physically delayed pre-Kindergarten aged children. During my time in the classroom, I noticed how little resources the teacher had to work with and how often she would bring materials into the classroom that she had purchased herself.  When I researched organizations through which I could help the teacher, other than simply just giving her cash, I found none. That’s when I conceived the idea of Adopt-A-Classroom.

The one piece of advice I wish I had was to not launch the company as a nonprofit. I believe in a different corporate structure, we’d have the opportunity to make an even greater impact for teachers and students.
Q: How does AAC work? How do you know the organization makes a difference?

Through Adopt-A-Classroom, members of the community can partner with and make a direct donation to classroom teachers.  Teachers use the funds to purchase critical resources for the classroom in order to increase opportunity for student success and donors serve as community partners to the teachers and students throughout the school year.

Independent research supports that when teachers have access to and use hands-on learning materials in the classroom, students perform better.  In addition, teacher morale has a big impact on student success.  Adopt-A-Classroom programming addresses both these key elements and as a result, I know we’re making a big difference in many, many children’s lives. In addition, the many emails and cards we get from teachers and students is a reminder how the work we do every day changes people’s lives for the better.

Q: Why teachers? I can think of several reasons why teachers are important, but why do you think so?

With so much attention focused on education and on helping children, often the importance of teachers is lost in the equation.  When you think about it, our teachers really are the key to the success of the next generation.   Teachers play so many important roles in a child’s life….teacher, mentor, guardian, role model, etc.  By supporting one classroom teacher, you are creating better learning opportunities for a minimum of 18 – 25 children.

Q: Who are you major corporate funders? How have they connected with AAC to make an impact with teachers?

Our two major corporate funders are Jones New York In The Classroom and OfficeMax.  Both companies are passionately dedicated to helping teachers, and by the sheer size of the resources they have available to them, they’ve been able to create tremendous awareness for Adopt-A-Classroom and the issues we address.  Combined, our corporate funders have made a several million dollar impact on tens of thousands of classroom teachers and hundreds of thousands of students.

Q: Why are these companies focusing on teachers?

Both companies see what I saw when I started Adopt-A-Classroom, that supporting teachers is an extremely potent way to improve opportunities for children.

Q: Any advice for nonprofits in how to approach corporate funders?

Always keep in mind what the needs of the corporation are.  A successful partnership is a two-way street.  While the company may love your mission, the programming has to be aligned with the company’s goals and objectives.

Q: You just celebrated your 10th anniversary, what’s next for AAC?

We’re exploring some exciting new partnerships.

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