Jen Hitchcock has been a teacher in Loudoun County Public schools for six years. She loves her job. In fact, she drives 90 minutes to teach special education at J. Michael Lunsford Middle School in Chantilly.
But she noticed something among her colleagues over the past two years—low morale.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to everyone, but teachers may have been hit hardest. When schools closed, online classrooms opened, causing teachers to adapt and teach in a way they had never done before, far away from their students.
Added challenges of schools opening, closing again then re-opening, masks and frustrated students and parents left a lot of teachers feeling underappreciated and tired.
Hitchcock decided to do something about it.
She noticed in her area there was a Facebook group that allowed people to adopt a teacher and help them with their out-of-pocket supplies. Hitchcock herself has spent upwards of $1,000 out of her own pocket each year for supplies for her special education students like fidget spinners and other items to help with anxiety and to help calm students and focus down on what is in front of them. She knew her colleagues often spent that much, if not more.
So she decided to give it a try. Enter the “Loudoun County, Va: Adopt a Teacher” Facebook page.
Teachers create an Amazon wish list with items they need or would like to have for their classrooms. They are then adopted by community members or businesses who buy one or more of the items on the list. Amazon then ships those items directly to the teacher. It’s similar to another local Facebook group that started last year. The difference is, items are shipped to teachers in Hitchcock’s group, as opposed to picking them up at a warehouse.
She launched the page hoping it would help a few teachers out. Within a couple of days, the group had 500 members. Three weeks later, there are over 3,000 members.
“It really shows how much the Loudoun community really appreciates their teachers and how they have stepped up to show that,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock said there are more than 1,000 teachers on the page, and it’s growing as word gets out. Many are still waiting to be adopted.
Tori Truesdale, Michele Leffler and Danielle Ofano are three volunteers who help Hitchcock with the Facebook page and getting the word out.
“It’s not meant as a bashing for Loudoun County Public Schools. Loudoun is an amazing county to work for. I love my job. It’s meant to be something to help the community and teachers connect, to help get teachers what they need and to boost their morale,” Hitchcock said. “A lot of them needed to feel appreciated.”
There is a great need for teachers to be adopted at the elementary school level and at Title One schools, a federal designation for schools with a high number of low-income families.
Julie Cacciola is an art teacher at Park View High School in Sterling, a Title One school. She posted her list and was adopted within a day. A large part of her list was getting the book Wreck this Journal for her art students.
“There is a current trend in the art world around visual journaling. Some of the kids find it hard to come out of their shell with art. This book is great because it gives them a little direction to give them a safe way to fully express their creativity and boost their confidence to pursue other artistic avenues,” Cacciola said.
Cacciola said Loudoun County is blessed to have a great budget for education, but it gets the basics. She said she’s grateful for her administrative team and her art supervisor who do all they can to get what the teachers need.
“Teachers are naturally programmed to make lessons work with the bare minimum because that’s usually what happens. The adopt a teacher program has been so great because we as teachers are gifted with items, we normally would never be able to use. It’s like getting a hug from the community,” said Cacciola.
Hitchcock said school counselors have joined the group as well to help with out-of-pocket needs. She said there is a bigger mental health need today than ever before and counselors are finding the need to replenish supplies more often.
School nurses have also joined.
Sarah Larson, a school nurse at Sugarland Elementary School in Sterling, was adopted within minutes of posting what she needed on the Facebook page. She was hesitant to join at first because she isn’t a teacher, but after reaching out to Hitchcock she decided to post her list of needs.
The biggest item on her list was packs of underwear for students to change into when they have accidents.
“Having those items to start the school year is so helpful. I go through a ton of clothes. It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem like a lot but throughout the year it really adds up. It is such a gift,” she said.
Hitchcock said Loudoun County Moms, a Facebook group of about 7,000 local moms reached out to her wanting to help. She said the group is fundraising to donate gift cards as well as buying items from the teachers lists from local stores like Target and Walmart and then delivering the items to the schools.
Hitchcock said she hopes the Adopt a Teacher page continues into next year and years to come.
“Our needs for school classrooms don’t end. You have new teachers every year. First-year teachers often have to completely do a classroom and the vast majority of that comes out of their pocket,” she said. “My end goal is to continue to help teachers get what they need to ensure students are learning as best as possible and to help everyone feel appreciated.”
“The credit goes to the Loudoun community for this. They were looking for a way to help and this page just provided a spot for community and teachers to come together,” she added.
The group has partnered with several local businesses, but they are hoping more will join. If you are interested in adopting a local teacher, go to the Loudoun County Va: Adopt a Teacher Facebook page. You can donate Amazon or Visa gift cards that will be used to buy items off a wish list.