team effort

Students launch foundation to help their peers fill budget gaps

A screenshot of GrayMatter's website.

As a student at Staten Island Technical High School, Jeremy Meyers couldn’t always get the gear he needed as a member of the fencing team. The Model United Nations team he had helped start was scrambling for funds to attend conferences. And he saw that computer programming classes were cut alongside the school’s budget.

Instead of making do with less, Meyers, now a freshman at Columbia University, teamed up with classmates to develop a strategy to fill the budget gaps.

The result is GrayMatter, a foundation that aims to make it easier for students to raise money for their schools.

Modeled off of DonorsChoose, the website that many teachers use to solicit donations for school supplies, GrayMatter allows students in city schools to list projects in need of support, then collects and disburses funds on the students’ behalf after verifying with school officials that the need is real.

Right now, Jim, a senior at a Brooklyn school, still needs $282.72 to allow two members of a community service group to attend a leadership conference. The final bill comes to $612.72, and 17 people have already pitched in $330.

Five other projects have already been fully funded. Last year, donors used the site to help Tausif in Staten Island buy music equipment and Lichi in Manhattan to pay for books about college scholarships. In March, Afshan Sarwar asked for $420 to buy a class set of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” then posted pictures of Leon M. Goldstein High School of Sciences students reading the book after the project was funded.

Meyers said the foundation, which counts DonorsChoose founder Charles Best among its board members, had struggled to raise awareness about the new service. After efforts to work with administrators at different schools fell short, the group is turning its attention social media, launching a GrayMatter Foundation Facebook group that has nearly 800 fans.

Mayers and his co-founder, Staten Island Tech classmate Shah Ullah, put together a steering committee of students who spent the summer of 2011 raising funds and getting the word out. In September, GrayMatter became a 501c3 non-profit organization, meaning that donations to it are now tax-deductible.

So far, according to information posted on GrayMatter’s website, the group has spent more than $3,200 on its own expenses and raised about $1,100 for students’ projects. That balance should shift dramatically as more students list projects on the site, Meyers said.

In the future, Meyers said he hopes to expand nationally, but for now, projects are limited to the country’s largest school district.

“We’re staying in NYC right now because we’re here and also there’s a great need,” he said. “There are a lot of forward-thinking students that need materials that their schools don’t necessarily provide.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.