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Special Education Teachers to Get Boost From Google on 'Giving Tuesday'

Visitors to Google's home page on Dec. 1—unofficially known as "Giving Tuesday"—will see a link directing them to a website where they can donate money to help thousands of special education teachers with specific projects that will help their students. 

Google.org, the charitable arm of the online-services provider, is planning to match $1 million in donations through a partnership with the website Donors Choose. 

(This is in addition to an effort announced Nov. 24 where Android Pay, Google's mobile-payments platform, will donate $1 to special education projects for every payment made through the platform by Dec. 31. Up to $1 million will be donated through the Android Pay program.)

This is not the first time the two entities have connected to help special education teachers: In the first two weeks of November, Google.org gave more than $720,000 in "flash grants" to teachers in seven metropolitan areas. That money reached 660 special education teachers, paid for 747 projects, and affected more than 43,000 students, according to Google.

One of the teachers to be funded during the early November effort was Laura Henry, a speech therapist at Richard J. Murphy School, a K-8 school in the Boston district. Henry asked for $663 for a printer, color ink, and laminating sheets so that she could make picture cards for her students, who use the cards to communicate. 

Within a week of posting her request, Henry noticed that the project had been removed from the site and assumed she had made some kind of error when she posted it. She hadn't gotten around to figuring out what she needed to do to revise the request, she said in an interview. Then she learned that Google.org was fully funding her project, along with all of the requests made by special education teachers in Suffolk and Middlesex counties.

"I was kind of impressed that Google would take time to learn about special education and the kind of things we need," said Henry. Another $2,500 from Google will go to additional technology, including voice output devices that allow children to press a switch to play a message, and switch mounts, which allow children to operate devices without needing to use their hands. 

Javier Payano, Mark Carrera, and Paul Carrera, three music teachers at Lane Tech High School in Chicago, posted a request for $1,847 to buy accessible musical instruments, such as handbells, a keyboard floor mat, and "Boomwhackers," or plastic percussion tubes. Google.org funded that project along with all the other special education projects requested by teachers in Cook County. 

"It's amazing, what they're doing, especially in light of CPS as a district," said Payano. Chicago has recently announced it was reversing district-wide special education cuts that had drawn wide criticism. "Maybe this is a great thing for [Google] to set a tone. Maybe Apple will see this and do something, maybe another company. This whole experience has taught me that music education and special education can team up to make this happen."

Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities

Google.org's work in this area is part of a company-wide philanthropic effort focused on accessible technology. Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities has provided $20 million in grants to various organizations that support people with disabilities. 

"These partnerships with Donors Choose has been a special centerpiece," said Jacquelline Fuller, the director of Google.org. The organization has been thinking about "how can we both invest in really usable solutions and how can we reach the caregivers, and we came up with this idea of, 'Let's flash-fund every request for teachers of special needs students, and let's also invite the public to do that.'" 

The attention from individual donors along with the matching grants could end up reaching thousands of students. Most requests for donations are modest—between $600 and $800, said Charles Best, the founder and chief executive officer of Donors Choose. Visitors to the website will have an opportunity to select from the projects that are most meaningful to them. The Google money will be in place until the matching funds are exhausted. 

Donors Choose has partnered with corporations before, but Google's efforts are unique, because they're "calling upon teachers to delve deep into their imaginations to come up with their most innovative, most creative projects for supporting students with disabilities," Best said. "By spotlighting the most breakthrough special education, we think we can seed the ideas and see them blossom around the country." 

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