Friday, October 10, 2014

Chester Teacher uses online fundraising campaign to provide notebook computers

Camelot Education Teacher Kayla Boylen 

A teacher at Chester’s accelerated high school for over-age and under-credited students has successfully conducted an online fundraising campaign to buy ten notebook computers for students in her English classes.

Kayla Boylen teaches at Chester Excel Academy, operated by Camelot Education in partnership with Chester-Upland High School. The school, in its second year of operation, specializes in helping students who are unable to succeed in main stream school advance and graduate.

Using a website called, she set up a campaign to raise $2,500 for ten Google Chrome notebooks. She set the goal after deciding how many of the machines she needed for her class.

 “Class size averages 20 or so students so I figured the kids could work in small groups sharing a laptop,” she says.  “I would have asked for more, but I was nervous that if the target was higher than that it might have prolonged the process, and I wanted the computers to start the school year.  Also, I had done a project right before this one for $500 for two sets of books, so I didn’t want to be too greedy.”

The $500 project she ran just before this one was to buy new copies of “Of Mice and Men,” noting that students are negatively affected when their books are in poor condition. 
Most of the contributors to Boylen’s campaigns are family and friends but she also gets random people from other states who donate. “They hear your story and feel for these kids and contribute,” she says.

Boylen first used when she was teaching in Philadelphia public schools, where, as in Chester, she didn’t always have the resources she needed.

“It would be wonderful if every school district had equal resources. Unfortunately, that’s not the world that we live in right now and that’s not what’s happening in education, but luckily there are wonderful programs like Donors Choose that allow teachers to make it work anyway,” Boylen says. “I talk to teachers in suburban districts where every kid has an iPad, and I’m trying to close that gap as much as I can and give my students as much of the same technology and access as possible.”

She says other teachers are using the website for fundraising and she is hoping more will.
“It would be great if even more teachers used this program, especially in urban districts where the resources are more limited. There are a lot of people out there willing to help and teachers just need to access that help.”

So how does it work? A teacher goes on the site and sets up a teacher profile, explains where they’re teaching, the kind of kids they have and what they need in the classroom to help students.

“Without computers, the kids are only learning what I’m bringing to them, and that’s through printing out articles, making copies, basically anything I can get my hands on,” Boylen says. “With the computers, I can assign them a topic and they can determine what’s important. The can go on line, they can surf, they can find their favorite poem or find a current event that they think is important more than just the one that I chose to bring in. It puts a lot of responsibility on them but also freedom and choice that will not only make them more interested in what’s going on in the class but also what’s going on outside of here.”

Boylen spent her first three years as an English teacher in Philadelphia. Now in her second year in Chester she says she is teaching the same population but from a different perspective.

“When I was in Philly I unfortunately saw kids who were falling through the cracks and being left behind. You could see their graduation date getting further and further away from them. Here, we are getting those kids and giving them a second chance. I feel like I’m helping a lot more and giving those kids a chance that normally they wouldn’t have.”

The executive director of Camelot’s school in Chester, Daniel Peticca, couldn’t be more proud of Boylen and her contributions to the school.

“We saw by the number of students we graduated in just our first year - 12% of Chester’s graduating class - that we are making a meaningful difference in these young lives,” said Peticca. “That percentage is going to increase this year. We are able to make that kind of impact because of the commitment of people like Kayla. That’s why she was our teacher of the year. She is leading by example.”