By Chris Collins
Jandy Eskew's first-graders watched with anticipation as the mysterious boxes sitting at the front of their classroom were opened by their teacher Wednesday at Brooklyn Primary.
Before the unveiling of the gifts supplied by Starbucks, the children guessed what might be inside.
"Toys!" was the first guess, but Eskew reminded the children that they were at school and not at home, which prompted the next guess of the box's contents: "homework."
"That would be interesting," the teacher replied.
A third student threw out the teacher's favorite suggestion: "drinks."
"I would love it if Starbucks gave us a box of drinks," she said.
Other guesses included a game system and a television set.
As Eskew pried the cardboard box open to reveal what was inside, the students rushed to the center of the carpet at the back of the room where they had gathered to gain a firsthand look.
They found books, books and more books.
The second box Eskew opened contained math games for partners. And while that might not have been the kind of games the children had hoped for, Eskew was thrilled at the prospect of using them to improve math instruction for her students.
A third box contained still more books.
The gifts came to the classroom through a grant Eskew applied for this summer at DonorsChoose.org. She discovered the program while surfing the Internet to find ways to pay for supplemental classroom materials.
The books, all nonfiction, are divided by reading levels to accommodate her students' varying skills.
"This level of nonfiction is the hard find," she said, adding that her first-grade classroom has a good supply of fictional storybooks, but it was lacking in nonfiction.
"First-graders love when they can open a book and read it all by themselves," she wrote in her grant application. "They are so proud of their own abilities."
"The greater impact is when they can read about real things," Eskew stated.
The first order of business Wednesday after the boxes were opened and their contents revealed was for Eskew to read one of the stories with her students.
Because frogs are a focus of her classroom decor and a theme for instruction throughout the year, she chose a book about the amphibians to introduce the gifts.
"It's a real story about real frogs," she said.
The students read along as their teacher displayed the book's pages on the interactive white board on her classroom wall.
Eskew said the online grant program was especially attractive because it was not as labor-intensive as others she'd found on the net.
The application was short, but it did require her to check her email regularly and to respond quickly once she was notified that her proposal had been granted.
Starbucks contributed $466.88 to fund Eskew's entire request, plus shipping and handling.
Nine levels of nonfiction books were paid for along with the "Grab and Play" partner math games for first-graders. Starbucks also donated $82.39 to the DonorsChoose.org to support that program.
Eskew was notified in July that her grant - the first she's ever applied for - had been awarded.
"I replied immediately and then called my mother and told her it felt like Christmas," she said.
Other requirements of the grant call for her to send photographs of the students using the supplies along with thank-you notes and an essay about how the items have helped improve learning in her classroom.
Eskew said the nonfiction books were her top priority when she applied for the grant.
She added the math games after spotting them in a catalogue as a supplement to the partner-math program already in place in her classroom.
"I was quite shocked when I found out they funded everything," she said.
Because she provides reading instruction to other Brooklyn students during part of her day, children outside her classroom will benefit from the new materials as well.
"It's such a gift," she said. "To try to do that for your own classroom is almost impossible in one year."