MANCHESTER, NH – There are teachable moments all around us. Jessica Perry, a special education teacher at Gossler Park Elementary School, fully believes this, which is why she’s always looking for a way to connect her students to the world around them through everyday lessons.
When Hurricane Harvey struck deep in the heart of Texas, Perry was moved to action, after seeing many shared posts of the devastation in her social media feed.
Two nights ago she spotted a post by someone who wanted to “adopt” a Texas classroom.
“I thought that was a good idea, so I posted it in a Facebook group I belong to that is all teachers – there are more than 40,000 followers of the page from all around the country. I just said hey, I’m a teacher from New Hampshire looking to adopt a classroom in Texas that my students could maybe send cards to, or goodie bags,” says Perry.
All of a sudden she had hundreds of other fellow teachers reaching out to her to find out how they could help, and what kinds of responses she was getting from Texas teachers.
“It just kind of blew up from there,” says Perry, who has been gathering information from classroom teachers in Texas and adding them to a master list she created, which is publicly accessible via Google docs. Teachers from around the country can simply go to the list and “adopt” a classroom.
She estimates 350 individual classrooms have been adopted in the past 24 hours.
“It’s hard to keep track because the list is growing all the time,” says Perry.
As of Wednesday evening there were eight classrooms in need of adopting, although that number is likely to keep changing as word of the document circulates, says Perry.
“I have a lot of teachers who’ve reached out wanting to put their schools on the list, but they’re waiting until they can get back to their classrooms and see what’s needed before they do that,” she says.
She’s been fielding hundreds of messages and emails, many of them from teachers whose classrooms are still under water.
“To be honest, it’s been a little bit overwhelming, as I read some of these messages from people thanking me for the list. I’ve had an entire school got adopted. The messages of gratitude really pull at your heart strings, I get a little teary eyed when I see the photos and hear the stories,” Perry says.
Those who’ve “adopted” classrooms will decide individually how to go forward, what to send and how. Perry says in most cases it will likely be driven by the students to come up with ideas.
“While it is teachers helping teachers, it’s really more students helping students,” Perry says. “It’s a valuable lesson, to teach our kiddos we can make an impact even if those we help live hundreds of miles away. And it’s the same lesson for the students in Texas, to get some joy and love from far away. I’m sure at a time like this, it’s got to be wonderful to know that kids in other parts of the country are thinking of them and loving on them. It’s a sort of kindness lesson, from our students to theirs.”
Perry goes back to school next Tuesday, and figures this project will give her a chance to go over current events with her students and present them with the question of how they’d like to help their fellow students in Texas.
“Usually they’re pretty up to speed on the news of the day. I’ll use it as a conversation starter, and ask them how we can spread some joy and help others. It’s about helping their ideas come to life and sending their joy in some form or another to students in Texas,” Perry says.
After teaching preschool in Goffstown for 11 years, Perry was hired last year to teach special education at Gossler Park. She says of all the lessons she has taught, kindness is the most important one of all.
“Last year my bulletin board outside my classroom was constantly changing, but it was focused on an interactive kindness challenge. Kids could write sticky notes and add them to the board, or take them off and give them to people,” Perry says. “Actually, the kindness challenge was one of the activities students had to complete in order to enter the bike-a-thon, which was a chance to win a bike. Not only does it get them writing and thinking, but in doing these acts of kindness, it makes a huge impact on the kids.”