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Volunteers treat teachers with appreciation week

Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2013 at 12:16 PM

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Students come to class with no socks and wearing their parents’ shoes.

“They got blisters on their feet,” said Kathy Bruno, first-grade teacher at Eastside Elementary. “It happens.”

Plus they’re hungry, which complicates math class somewhat, Bruno said.

“There’s a need, let’s put it that way,” Title I Parent Educator and Community Liaison Beth Zacharias said. “We have to address those basic needs before we can address the academic.”

Zacharias’ office is a storage room filled with supplies for other people. The computers, school utensils, shelves of canned food, bed sheets, clothes, shoes and Christmas gifts are the result of the generosity of 56 local businesses and organizations like the Brooksville Women’s Club, which recently helped raised more than $4,254 for the students.

“Not one child ever have I ever seen who was hungry and did not get fed,” Bruno said.

“They’re always calling me and giving us supplies. Eastside Elementary has been very blessed,” Zacharias said. “This is how I started with the Brooksville Women’s Club. They’re the ones that made this better, because before it was just a pile in a room, and they organized it and folded everything.”

Fortunately that community support is nothing new, says Zacharias. It isn’t the 530 students at the Title I school that have changed during the last 28 years she’s been at Eastside — 85 percent of whom live below the poverty line and hold the highest numbers in free and reduced lunch.

“They’re in severe poverty; we got hit really hard on this side of the county,” Zacharias said. “We’ve had a huge changeover in leadership over the last 10 years. We’ve had a lot of new people and a lot of new teachers and principals.”

The Department of Education has Eastside Elementary under a microscope. It’s been deemed a focus school since it dropped from a C to a D on the state’s grading system, resulting in the implementation of a new learning system model and added weekly training and staff development.

It’s been a tough year, Zacharias said, and never did the teachers at Eastside expect a week like this last one has been — Teacher Appreciation Week.

On Monday morning there was breakfast. On Tuesday there were banana splits. On Wednesday there was a Chinese lunch. On Thursday there were homemade desserts all day.

And on Friday Annette Tolbert and Ronnie Parry, both volunteers with the Brooksville Women’s Club, were walking through the doors of the teacher’s lounge with more than a dozen cheese pizzas and salads.

“Eastside school, they work so hard, and we just wanted to do something to say, ‘You know what? You are appreciated,’” Tolbert said.

They even gave Bruno a complete makeover, Tolbert said.

“We did her hair, her makeup, gave her new clothes,” Tolbert said. “She’s so thrilled, and the teachers saw her this morning and they started laughing and smiling, and saying, ‘We couldn’t tell who you were!’

“For these ladies to do this and show their appreciation — our teachers really needed it, especially this year over any other,” Zacharias said. “I’ve been here 28 years and this is the first time we’ve had such appreciation.”

And on Friday there was a final raffle gift to end the week: a vacation trip to St. Augustine and a room at the Hilton there.

“They’re like a gift from heaven,” teacher Donna MacDonald said. “I hug them everyday. They’re just wonderful. They brought spirit back into our school.”

And with their spirits up, teachers at Eastside can focus on what made them want to enter the profession, instead of those things they didn’t.

“When you see that light bulb go on, and a student’s eyes light up with that confidence that, ‘I can do this’ — it gives you chills,” Bruno said.

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