The Edmond Sun

January 29, 2013

A gift that keeps on giving: Jones teachers pay it forward

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Jones Elementary School teachers received the gift that keeps on giving.

When Jones School District’s Superintendent Mike Steele told his teachers he was going to do everything he could to see they got a bonus at Christmas, neither he nor the teachers knew for sure how or if it would transpire.

“It has been a while since the teachers have received a raise from the state, seven years in fact,” Steele said. “Even though I was on the opposite side in the negotiations process I gave them a promise that if we could budget a little extra, save a little back, I would like to give certified and non-certified employees a little Christmas bonus.”

Steele said when he mentioned it during the October school board meeting the board members voted overwhelmingly to give certified teachers $200 and non-certified employees $125.

As the months passed many forgot the promise and when the Christmas holidays came around most were surprised to see their December paychecks a little larger.

“It was a small token of the appreciation the administration and the school board have for the faculty and staffs,” Steele said.  

What Steele couldn’t know was a non-certified employee at Jones Elementary School was having trouble paying his propane bill for the month and cold weather was forecast. Nor could he know a short time later a teacher with 40 years teaching in the classroom was hit head-on in a car collision, putting her in the hospital with all her limbs broken and in critical condition.

Jones Elementary is a small school by some standards with 550 students enrolled in pre-K through fifth grade and a staff of 50 teachers.

“We are a rural school,” said Principal Cindy Harrison, “ and two weeks before Christmas, one of our staff was having trouble paying for propane for heat.”

The principal sent an email explaining the situation saying the staff member had been there for more than 25 years and if anyone had anything left over to just put it in an envelope.

“We had gotten a bonus check of $200 from the school board and many of the teachers wanted to take their bonus check and give it to the staff member,” Harrison said. “Money started rolling in all day long and into the next day. One of the teachers is married to a Baptist preacher in Choctaw and he brought a check for $300.”

The teachers collected more than $3,000 to help purchase propane and had money left to help the employee with his taxes and buy tires for his vehicle. In an assembly the principal told the students to find a cause and to pay it forward, which is exactly what the teachers had done.

On Wednesday before the Christmas break, a teacher who had been teaching at the elementary school for more than 40 years didn’t show up. She had come in two days prior to sign her evaluation, and at that time she had told Harrison she would be retiring at the end of the year.

“She was always the first one to arrive, and when she wasn’t there we knew something had happened,” Harrison said. “She had been hit in a head-on collision when topping a hill on Britton Road. She has been in the hospital for 30 days now with a severed artery in her stomach and all of her limbs broken as well as other injuries.”

Once again the word went out and everyone started asking what could they do to help.

“We fed her family during the evenings and continue to take quarters to the hospital for the vending machines, and we will take food to the family after she gets home,” Harrison said. “What is weird is the month prior to all of this happening our cheerleaders were chosen to go to the Capital 1 Bowl and several teachers had already given to the $15,000 total raised by the girls in three months.

“They do not have deep pockets,” Harrison said. “They are just that kind of people. So far they have raised more than $1,000 for the teacher and the donating is still ongoing.”

The elementary school has set up an account in a local bank to help with the expenses of the family getting back and forth to the hospital.

“Time and time again we have all been in some situation, something that gave us a spine-chilling feeling,” Harrison said. “These are not monied people. They pay their bills from month to month. They are sacrificing to help someone else. I have lived with this mind-set of the community for years. It shows people do care.”   

Harrison said the teachers appreciated the bonus given by the board. But the teachers said they hadn’t budgeted with the bonus in mind.

“Many said the Lord gave it to me, and in giving it away it will come back to me,” Harrison said. “They were paying it forward just like I had urged the students to do in the assembly.”

When Edmond’s Second Street Chick-Fil-A franchise owner Greg Harjo found out what the teachers had done, he and his staff decided to reach across city lines and provide lunch for the teachers to show them Chick-Fil-A’s appreciation for the generosity they had shown to others.

“Jones doesn’t have a Chick-Fil-A, so we, being part of the community from a community event standpoint, just wanted to reach out and show we were supporting them,” Harjo said.

In addition to lunch, the staff was given Chick-Fil-A coupons and cow Pez dispensers, said Laura Longley, spokeswoman for the company. “We wanted to celebrate them taking care of their own, and doing something for someone else, and we as a company are giving back to them.”  

The injured teacher is now in rehabilitation and making a wonderful recovery, Harrison said.  

The students are making their teacher cards and banners and soon this special education teacher will be skyping with her second- and third-grade students.

“We are thrilled to death with Chick-Fil-A and their generosity,” Steele said. “They are always a good neighbor, and as it turns out, Chick-Fil-A is my favorite place to eat.”