MILTON, W.Va — After receiving every item she had sought in an online donation campaign Friday, Milton Elementary School third-grade teacher Jennifer Saul will have to go back to the books and rewrite the lesson plans she worked hard to complete over the summer.
“I’ll have to go through everything and sort through what I have and reassess,” she said. “But that’s a good problem to have.”
Saul was one of 347 teachers at 218 schools with 40,000 students in West Virginia whose online donation campaigns through DonorsChoose.org were completely filled, thanks to a partnership with Walmart. Every campaign made by West Virginia teachers prior to Aug. 21 was fulfilled as part of the company's more than $260,000 donation to provide items such as books, classroom supplies, technology, robotics kits and art supplies.
The secret was revealed to Saul in her classroom Friday by former Marshall University and NFL quarterback Chad Pennington, who interrupted Saul’s morning lesson with a trove of Walmart employees following him with boxes of the items she had been longing for.
Saul said she nearly cried when she was surprised by Friday’s announcement.
”To see the looks on their faces, that’s why I do it; that’s why I do all this, to give them the best I can.” she said. “I’m glad I can give them the things that make school really cool and modern and a place they want to be.”
Pennington said he felt it was important to give back to the community not only because of his connection as an athlete, but also because both his parents were teachers for more than three decades.
The Penningtons went to Marshall as well, and did their student teaching in the Barboursville and Milton areas, he said.
“This is certainly full circle for me knowing my parents were in this area doing their student teaching in the early 1970s before I was even thought of,” he said. “To be able to come back and be a part of a project like this makes a lot of sense, but also makes me excited.”
Pennington said when kids know they’re supported and have the right materials, it makes them feel good and encourages them to be their best.
Tennyson Thornberry, store manager of the Huntington U.S. 60 Walmart, was on hand with other Walmart employees to shuttle the boxes into the classrooms and show support for the local teachers alongside Pennington.
“It was like Christmas morning,” he said. “They were just tearing into packages and it was exciting for them. It was exciting for us to see that. We live here. We work here and we are proud to be part of all these organizations.”
DonorsChoose.org was founded by a Bronx teacher in 2000 and more than 3.8 million people have given $850 million to projects affecting 35 million students.
Saul had started her campaign a couple school years ago to start updating some of the older and outdated things in her classroom, which is located in an aging school. She said she wanted her classroom to be modern and nurturing, an environment students wanted to return to each day, but needed help to make that happen.
Some of the campaign items gifted Friday ranged from wobble stools so the students could move around to different desk and even ground tables, so the kids were comfy on the floor.
Saul said she felt as if a burden had been lifted.
“It definitely affects it. I have spent a lot of money on my room,” she said. “My husband has gotten on to me. He’s a teacher, too. He’s like, 'You’re spending too much money,' so this really helps our family.”
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.