Brawley Middle School sixth-grader Natalie Almond has a dream.
She plans to become a brain surgeon one day. But at the moment she's focused on a more immediate goal: providing Smart Board technology for every classroom.
"Present and future students can use this technology," said Natalie, who is undaunted by cost and a slow economy.
A Smart Board resembles a regular white board. By connecting the board to a laptop and projector, teachers can access Web sites and text documents. Students write with special pens and erasers. With the flick of a finger, they can move items and edit documents. It's hands-on, interactive learning for the 21st century.
All hands were raised as eager students in computer teacher Cheryl Moore's class vied to explain their work. "It's awesome," Natalie said.
Believing future doctors, lawyers and teachers will benefit from using Smart Boards, Natalie created a letter-writing campaign to raise $25,000. Principal Jimmie Dancy provided school letterhead and envelopes, while she bought stamps.
Excitement was still evident in her voice as the young fundraiser described the check for $5,000 from Goldman Sachs, the first respondent. The persistent student wrote more than 100 letters before a company answered. Then she wrote more letters.
So how does a sixth-grader know about Fortune 500 companies?
"I had heard of some from watching CNBC, the stock market trading show, with my mom," she said. Natalie researched corporations and checked for their charitable donations departments.
She began her campaign by writing to companies she likes, such as Apple Computers and Disney. Disappointed at Apple's refusal, Natalie persevered.
Andrew Products, an Illinois racing parts company, has contributed. Some racing shops are donating items for an auction, and individuals are responding. An unexpected large contribution came from Aaron's Inc., which has pledged $25,000.
Dancy is ecstatic about the campaign. He showcases the contributions on the donor tree Natalie designed.
"I'm shocked at a sixth-grader doing this to benefit not only herself, but the entire school," he said.
With a current total of $32,664, including the Aaron's pledge, Natalie will exceed her goal. Classmates are excited and discuss which classes will get Smart Boards.
A Smart Board, including additional technology, costs about $2,000. Three boards will be assigned to each grade level. Less expensive handheld versions will be purchased for other classrooms.
Teachers and staff, along with Natalie and her mother, have attended training. A few boards have been ordered.
Although Natalie's goal is becoming a reality, her work is not finished. She writes a thank-you letter to every donor.
"Generous companies stood up and helped the kids at Brawley Middle School," she said.
She reminds each corporation that "all the kids will have a better education, thanks to you." She pledges "to try to be the best brain surgeon in the world."
In her spare time, Natalie has other interests. She recently competed in a Battle of the Books competition. Walking neighborhood dogs with sister Alexa is a favorite pastime, and she enjoys riding her bike and playing tennis.