In an effort to make the hard work of Queens educators a little easier, the Queens Chronicle and Queens Center Mall kicked off National Teacher Appreciation week last Friday with a pep rally and giveaway recognizing extraordinary teachers.
The event at Queens Center Mall drew attention to the fact that throughout the city, teachers are spending hundreds of dollars from their paychecks just to do their jobs. In order to help defray the cost of classroom supplies, the mall and the Queens Chronicle gave three public school educators Teachers Supply Closet gift cards to buy materials for their classrooms.
“Across the country a lack of funding has forced teachers to spend billions of dollars to educate their students,” said Dawn Simon, marketing manager of the mall. “We will do whatever it takes to help you educate the children of the future.”
The gift card winners were selected based on essays they wrote last month, describing what they hoped to purchase and the lesson they would teach with new supplies.
First-place winner Alfie Poje, who teaches math at I.S. 61, the Leonardo DaVinci School, in Corona, described how she would incorporate technology into her school’s math program.
“Computer use in our schools today can only be described as pathetically limited,” she wrote in the winning essay.
With the $500 gift card she received, Poje plans to purchase equipment to enable her class to view computer work on a large screen. That way she can demonstrate mathematics for the entire class.
Poje, a former computer programmer, was thrilled to have the extra money to spend on her students. She was teaching a class when she received the phone call informing her that she won. “I was a little louder than the kids,” she said. “I told one of the girls to take down the information because I was so excited.”
Second-place winner Victor Ho teaches science at PS 299, which serves students from Bushwick and Ridgewood. Ho arrived in New York City last year and was shocked by the lack of resources in his school.
“PS 299 lacks the resources of the poorest schools in California,” he wrote in his essay. “In my present school I just have a teacher’s textbook to teach science, not even some student workbooks or a science laboratory.” In his essay, Ho also described how 36 teachers share one old photocopy machine that is often broken.
With the $250 gift card he won, Ho plans to buy a TV/VCR unit to show his students science documentaries. “I promised the kids that I’d bring a TV next week, so I’d better do it,” he said.
If there is any money left over, Ho hopes to open an account at Kinko’s as well. He said he spent more than $400 to buy classroom supplies and make copies this year.
Like Ho, third-place winner Susan Armstrong is a first-year teacher in the New York City public schools. She plans to use her $150 gift card to buy books for her seventh grade math students at MS 217 in Briarwood.
First on her list is a class set of “Gulliver’s Travels” to teach her students about ratio, proportion and measurement. “The books would open the door for exploration, investigation and critical thinking for all students,” she wrote. “This is what we strive for as teachers.”
Armstrong estimated that she spent $600 of her own money buying supplies for her class and was looking forward to the purchases she could make with her card. “It’s very exciting,” she said about being one of the winners. “These are things I wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.”
The mall and the Chronicle decided to team up to help teachers defray some of their annual classroom expenses since a recent study showed 89 percent of teachers spend their own money on instructional materials. On average, these teachers spend $458 during the school year.
In addition to the contest, Queens Center is sponsoring a number of other special programs for teachers throughout the year.
Shoppers will be able to purchase gift cards for teachers all month at the mall’s guest services center. For each gift card sold, Queens Center will donate $1, up to a maximum donation of $1,000. The donated money will be used to purchase additional gift cards during next year’s Teacher Appreciation Week.
The Teachers Supply Closet gift cards can be used anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted and are sponsored by U.S. Bank.
Another initiative the Queens Center Mall is sponsoring to show appreciation for teachers is the educators’ discount card. Starting this month and throughout the year, teachers, school and district employees can register at guest services to receive a complimentary card for shopping discounts and promotions.
The mall’s parent company, Macerich, will also host supply drives to help teachers gather classroom supplies.
In addition, public and private schools as well as colleges and universities are invited to sell tickets for a special discount shopping day in December. All ticket-sale proceeds will be kept by the selling organization.
Kicking off National Teacher Appreciation Week and the Teacher Supply Closet program, cheerleaders from the Roberta Wells Conservatory of Arts and Learning in East Elmhurst performed last Friday and City Councilwoman Helen Sears thanked the sponsors for their work.
“It is always wonderful when we have help with the things the city cannot do,” Sears said. “This will help, this will really help.”
For more information about Teachers Supply Closet gift cards or educators’ discount cards, contact Terry Shalewitz at Queens Center, 718-592-3901.