As Rosanna Orta, a high school English teacher in Arizona, watched protests erupt across the country after the death of George Floyd, she started thinking about ways she could make a difference in her own classroom.

"There is so much work to do," said Orta, referring to the calls for change after Floyd, a black man, was pinned down by a white Minnesota police officer on Memorial Day. "When I get overwhelmed I go back to my space, and that’s 35 kids in a room who want to talk about anything."

Orta logged onto DonorsChoose --- a nonprofit crowdfunding website that allows anyone to donate to projects posted by educators themselves -- and asked for donations of books written by black authors, books that feature black characters as heroes and books that tell the stories of people of color.

PHOTO: Roseanna Orta, a high school English teacher in Arizona, took to DonorsChoose to ask for more diverse books for her classroom.
Roseanna Orta
Roseanna Orta, a high school English teacher in Arizona, took to DonorsChoose to ask for more diverse books for her classroom.

"By making their stories come alive in the classroom, all students have the opportunity to see the contribution that all people make to the American narrative," Orta wrote in her request. "We are a country of multiple perspectives and I want to make sure that everyone has a presence in my class library."

In less than 48 hours, Orta had met her goal. She will have more than three dozen new books in her classroom library this fall to help tell the stories of people of color.

"I want to prompt conversations about other people's experiences but mostly just validate students' own experiences," said Orta. "When I was a kid, I loved English and reading and writing, but it was not until I was an adult that I read a book written by a Latina author."

In Ohio, Jessie Stanley, a middle school English teacher, also saw the need to make her classroom library more diverse.

"I love the books that I teach, it's a lot of great classics, but it’s not a very diverse selection," said Stanley. "I want to give our students the opportunity to find themselves in a story."

Stanley put out a request on DonorsChoose for nearly one dozen short stories that tell the stories of black young people, multicultural families and more.

"Middle school is a bubble where [students] only think of people in their close proximity and not other people’s experiences," she said. "With these books, we can do book groups and that will hopefully open up the doorway to talk about what stories they’re learning about and the themes and introduce them to a bunch of authors."

Stanley and Orta are part of a trend on DonorsChoose, where more and more teachers are requesting books that tell stories of people of color in response to the national conversation on racism and white privilege sparked by Floyd's death.

Last week, the number of requests for DonorChoose's top five most requested books by black authors quintupled, even while the total number of book requests on the site dipped lower than previous weeks. All of the site's most requested books were about diversity in some form, according to Christopher Pearsall, vice president of brand and communications for DonorsChoose.

"We've heard from so many teachers who want to create a learning environment where their students can see themselves and feel like they belong," he said. "Often, that starts with building a classroom library that features diverse lead characters and authors."