Teaching Profession

This Teacher Bought Christmas Gifts for 500 Students

By Alix Mammina — December 21, 2017 1 min read
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For the second year in a row, a New Jersey elementary school teacher has raised thousands of dollars from online donations to provide Christmas gifts for every student at her school.

When a student told Jennifer Olawski that she wasn’t expecting anything for Christmas last year, the health and physical education teacher took matters into her own hands. According to the Associated Press, Olawski raised $2,500 on the fundraising site GoFundMe to buy art sets for each of the 500 students at Community Charter School in Paterson, N.J. This year, her fundraiser reached $4,500—enough to give every student coloring books, slime kits, and winter hats and gloves.

The school serves a high-poverty population, with 90 percent of students living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, the AP reports.

“My main focus is to teach these incredible kids that they are cared for, important, and loved,” Olawski wrote on the GoFundMe page for this year, which is still receiving donations.

This isn’t the first time teachers have relied on crowdfunding to provide for their students. Earlier this year, an Oklahoma teacher raised $25,000 on GoFundMe for classroom supplies—after panhandling to make a point about state budget cuts to education—and my colleague Brenda Iasevoli reported in May that since the site launched in 2010, campaigns supporting K-12 teachers have raised $33.8 million. Teachers have also used the education nonprofit site DonorsChoose.org to deliver basic necessities—like clothing, deodorant, and toothpaste—to their students in need.

Everyday teacher heroes aren’t hard to find, especially during the holiday season. And while this time of year is generally marked by students buying gifts for their teachers, when we asked educators about the most meaningful gifts they’ve received from students, some pointed to donations made in their names. Those donations, they said, went to providing presents and basic necessities for those in need. “I don’t really need gifts and there are others that really do,” one teacher tweeted.

Image by Ben White Photography, licensed under Creative Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.