Holiday Appreciation for Westerly Hills Academy Teachers

November 11, 2019

One of my favorite quotes is “A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others” by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Aren’t those words powerful?  I spend a lot of time with teachers, and I know how much time, love and money they pour into their classrooms.  The men and women who choose this profession do so with their hearts, not their heads.

When my children were younger, as many moms and dads do, I spent quite a bit of time volunteering at their elementary school.  Their school was an “A” school, and parents knew the primary reason it was rated so highly and students performed so well was the quality of the teachers.  We showed up for those teachers, too.  We provided them with elaborate lunches throughout the year, holiday parties outside of school hours, we helped in the classrooms and at lunch, and we chaperoned field trips.  At holiday time, each room mom would collect money for the teacher’s holiday gift, and we would present that gift, which was usually in the neighborhood of $300, to him or her at a class party.

As I began volunteering in Title 1 schools, including Westerly Hills Academy, I was surprised by how different the experience is for their teachers.  The median household income for a family at Westerly Hills Academy is just under $27,000.  Most parents at Westerly Hills do not have the luxury of staying home with their children, nor do they have the flexibility at work to pop over to school to volunteer.  There is no extra money for tissues for the classroom, and there is certainly no ability to generate a $300 gift for every teacher at Christmastime.

So where does that leave our teachers at Westerly Hills Academy?  We all know teachers have one of the most difficult, most important, and least appreciated jobs out there.  That’s why we support our own children’s teachers and make sure they know how much we appreciate them!  Our children come into the classroom prepared by preschool, well-rested, fed and with homework completed (for the most part). Imagine how difficult it is to teach in a classroom where students are coming in without preschool exposure to letters, numbers, and classroom structure? To be evaluated on test scores for children who come into your classroom already behind?  To manage the behavioral effects on children of financial and housing instability?  Or to teach a child living in a car or shelter?  All while making it on a starting salary of $40,000 a year, thanks to a county supplement that boosts the $35,000 state salary.

Westerly Hills teachers cheer their unexpected gift from FPC last year.

Fortunately, Presbyterian Women spends a portion of its budget each year supporting Westerly Hills teachers with two staff lunches and treats.  In addition, the PW apple tree provides teachers with classroom supplies and a large item for one grade level each year.  (This year, the large item they chose was a nice electric pencil sharpener. Bless.)

Last year, we found ourselves with extra money in the local outreach budget due to the discontinued CMS child care subsidy.  At the recommendation of the Child & Family Outreach Committee, the Local Outreach Committee approved a one-time $50 gift for each staff member, with the remainder of the balance funding grade-level teacher initiatives.  The teachers and staff members were incredibly grateful and excited, and the lift in their spirits was palpable as I walked down the hall in the days and weeks after.  The transition to a PreK-5 school, which brought in some challenging students from a neighboring school, had worn them out.  While the money was appreciated, I left the school feeling like they were as impacted (if not more) by the message that we recognize not only what they do is hard, but that the work they have taken on is important and valued.

This holiday season, we will be collecting money to hold a free book fair and winter party for every Westerly Hills student.  Our goal will again be to send three books home with each student.  In addition, we will be collecting money to provide teachers and staff with a monetary gift.  There are approximately 80 staff members at Westerly Hills, and I am confident that this community can shower both students and staff with our love and appreciation this Christmas!  Contributions can be made here.

As always, volunteers are needed to help make the book fair a success, and I can only describe last year’s event as a true delight!  Who couldn’t use an hour of genuine, boundless joy and gratitude in the midst of the holiday bustle?   Shifts are one hour to ninety minutes on December 13, 18 and 19 – hope to see you there!


Heather Herring

Child and Family Partnership Coordinator