Above: Science teacher Jillian Ayala with her basket.
In December, holiday spirit was spread through East Greenwich High School in a new way thanks to some inventive members of the Parent Teacher Group. The PTG always tries to give back to teachers for a job well done. This year it took on a greater urgency and some extra hurdles, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions.
The PTG put together a raffle called The Twelve Days of Giveaways. Each day a different teacher was chosen to win a themed basket of their choice, like the golf-themed one called Looking FORE-Ward to 2021, or the Red Sox basket called Take Me Out To The Ballgame, or one designed for luxuriating in the bath called, of course, Calgon…Take Me Away, with bath towels, sparkling cider, and bath salts.
In a typical year, teachers would normally be treated to a massive cookie swap right before the holiday break. However, COVID-19 made that impossible this year so the PTG had to improvise (kind of like teachers have been doing since March).
“The idea was a little bit more than the cookie swap,” explained Nan Shea, president of the EGHS PTG. They’d wanted to do a 5-day giveaway event in May but with no in-person school, that wasn’t going to work. For December, “we couldn’t do the cookie party which they love and we have been doing for years, so we turned it into a play on Ellen DeGeneres’s ’12 Days of Giveaways.’”
So, 12 lucky teachers got pretty cool gifts. But the PTG wanted everyone to feel like a winner so at the end of the giveaway, all teachers were given a box of Trader Joe’s chocolates, a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, and Starbucks hot chocolate as a way to show appreciation.
As it turns out, the appreciation goes both ways.
“There’s so much stuff that the PTG does for us,” said humanities teacher Theresa Garno, who won one of the baskets. “They’ve gone out of their way to make things COVID safe and still make us feel appreciated. It makes things more manageable when there are people who appreciate you.”
Over the past few months, teachers have been faced with many challenges in the classroom, making the PTG role even more important in a time that is stressful for teachers.
“I feel like the one thing that we’ve really missed out on is the social interactions we get with students,” said Jillian Ayala, a science teacher at the high school who was one of the 12 recipients. “We don’t really get those interactions in the faculty meeting rooms and even faculty meetings themselves. Lunches are a lot smaller, we’re sitting far away, and you’re missing that rapport with students. That’s what brings us into the school in the first place.”
English teacher Greg DeCubellus spoke of the challenge in just seeing students two days a week instead of the usual five.
“As a result of the hybrid learning model, I am really struggling to find a balance between pushing students and challenging them,” he said. “I think in a normal situation I do a pretty good job of getting a sense of how they are feeling since I want to bend my students, but I don’t want to break them, yet right now sometimes I’m at a loss as to where those limits are. I want kids to grow but I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed, and at the same time, I don’t want them to feel like they’re stagnating either.”
Mrs. Garno agreed.
“The work is different, but that’s mainly because we don’t have the kids in the classroom and can’t sit down next to them in groups and just kinda talk things out and provide helpful feedback. The work takes longer to get back because we’re providing that feedback in writing and instead of going to a group of kids to say something now we have to type everything out and it just takes longer.”
It’s been a tough several months. Shea said the PTG was hoping to recognize that challenge with the 12 Days of Teacher Giveaways. While it wouldn’t be able to cure the problems created by the pandemic, maybe it could spread a little joy and helped teachers feel the love.