Two Farmington Hills women who met for the first time in a Facebook group have launched a project that grants classroom wishes for teachers challenged by COVID-19.
Lynne Gibbens and Mari Anne Wilcox both have teaching experience; Gibbens, in early childhood, and Wilcox, at North Farmington High. They know, first-hand, how much teachers invest in school supplies in a normal year.
“We’re both well aware this is a pervasive issue in the education system as a whole,” Gibbens said. “And we’re not in a normal year.”
After starting remote, all Farmington Public Schools (FPS) students returned this month to hybrid in-person learning. Delays and frustrations with remote learning have lead to a flood of negative comments about teachers during school board meetings and on social media.
“I kind of reached my limit,” Wilcox said. “I didn’t see anything positive about teachers, nothing celebrating what they’re doing.”
What more can we do?
Gibbens got in touch with Chris DeYonke, a Farmington Schools teacher who is also president of the Farmington Education Association. She asked a simple question: What more can we do?
DeYonke then sent out an email to teachers asking what they needed in their classrooms.
“It was an overwhelming response,” he said.
While the district provides classroom supplies, they seldom last all year long. To keep everyone safe this year, sharing pencils, markers, and other items is no longer an option.
Gibbens and Wilcox split up the work of creating the Facebook group, now called “H.E.A.R.T.-supporting FPS Teachers and Staff”. (H.E.A.R.T. stands for Helping Educators Attain Resources to Teach). Within 24 hours after its launch, over 200 people had joined. That number has more than doubled over the past two weeks.
“I think parents needed something positive,” Wilcox said. “I think they saw the same things we were seeing, and they were heartbroken.”
“This has grown so far beyond us, beyond our wildest dreams,” Gibbens added.
To date, the group has received more than 130 requests, which come in via an online form. Once posted, any of the nearly 500 group members can claim the request. They can also make financial contributions that Gibbens and Wilcox use to purchase supplies.
Parents, grandparents, alumni, and even former teachers and counselors have reached out. An FPS graduate who lives in another city donated in honor of a special teacher. A grandmother, who asked to remain anonymous, contributed calculators, pencils, and dry erase markers.
One load of supplies last week required a flat bed trailer. Deliveries are greeted with gratitude and sometimes even tears.
A breath of fresh air
DeYonke, whose wife is also a teacher, said they typically spend hundreds of dollars each year on supplies and even snacks for kids who don’t get breakfast. This year, teachers have also purchased computer screens, cameras, subscriptions, and even laptops to deal with remote learning.
“This is probably the highlight of the last 10 months for me,” DeYonke said. “That site was a breath of fresh air. It felt really nice to feel appreciated, and it’s wonderful to see the connections between parents supporting schools, teachers, and staff. We are very appreciative of what they’re doing.”
Gibbens and Wilcox plan to keep the group active as long as possible. The work, they say, is overwhelming and rewarding.
“I get teary-eyed at least twice a day with gratitude,” Wilcox said.
“It feels like this is the kind of community I knew we were and want to be part of,” Gibbens added.
You can find and ask to join the group here: facebook.com/groups/770490500483533.
Farmington Voice will match monetary donations to H.E.A.R.T. – supporting FPS Teachers and Staff, up to a total of $500. Funds will be used to purchase scientific calculators. Chip in here: paypal.com/paypalme/FarmingtonVoice.
Correction: The explanation of the acronym H.E.A.R.T. was incorrectly reported in the original version of this post.