Professional development days seldom move K-12 teachers and administrators to tears of joy. Monday, Oct. 31, was not an average professional development day at London Elementary School.
After the faculty and staff were called to the darkened cafeteria, the lights were turned on. There, standing on the stage, were students and faculty from the Arkansas Tech University Do Something organization with enough non-perishable food to serve the London Elementary backpack program for the remainder of the calendar year.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” said Marcia Correia, principal at London Elementary. “I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Our whole stage was covered in food for our program.”
Tiffany Nance, instructor of psychology at ATU, has children who attend London Elementary School and is involved in the school’s parent teacher organization (PTO). She brought forth collecting food for the London Elementary backpack program as a potential project for Do Something when the PTO started thinking about innovative ways to ensure the backpack program’s supply meets the need, especially with the Thanksgiving and holiday breaks looming in the near future.
Do Something ran with Nance’s idea. ATU students Maddy Hughes of Bentonville and Olivia Johnson of Pottsville emerged as co-chairs for the project. Within 24 hours, collection boxes were placed at on-campus locations.
“I love communicating and working with other people,” said Hughes. “This food drive gave me the perfect opportunity to do that. Along with that, I just love knowing that I can do something to help others. I do not think there is another reward greater than making other people smile or laugh or seeing them with such joy and hope for what’s about to come.”
The idea went from good to great when 18 additional entities connected to ATU — Future Business Leaders of America Collegiate, the ATU Department of Residence Life, Renew College Ministry, the Wesley Foundation, Elevation, Baptist College Ministry, the ATU Department of Behavioral Sciences, the ATU hospitality administration program, the ATU Department of Campus Life, Chi Alpha, ATU Faculty Senate, Ross Pendergraft Library and Technology Center, ATU Student Nurses Association, Sigma Theta Tau, Emerging Leaders student organization, ATU Student Government Association, St. Leo Catholic University Parish and the ATU Office of Human Resources — all signed on as co-sponsors.
“Quite frankly, I was worried about holding a project on this scale,” said Johnson. “Beforehand, I had only hosted projects between two or three organizations, and I thought that was difficult to execute. However, the organizations and departments jumped on the project, and we even had people reaching out to become co-sponsors. Moving forward, I won’t be nervous to reach out to other organizations to collaborate with.”
Together, they collected and donated approximately one ton of food for the London Elementary School backpack program. The non-perishable, easy to prepare food will be sent home with students in need over the weeks and months to come.
Dr. Sean Huss, ATU professor of sociology, and Dr. Jeremy Schwehm, ATU associate professor of professional studies, serve as faculty sponsors for Do Something.
“I think sometimes students don’t understand the impact they can have here on this campus and in the general community,” said Schwehm. “When the principal came in and all the teachers came in, I think the (ATU) students were just as shocked to see the impact they made as the folks from London Elementary were to see what the students had done.”
Hughes said she is not typically an emotional person, but that moment got to her.
“When the London administrators and teachers saw the donations and began to tear up, I was right there alongside them,” said Hughes. “It made me feel so accomplished to know that something that Olivia and I had worked so hard on paid off. Seeing their jaws drop and seeing how much it meant to them made the whole experience that much sweeter.”
Huss and Schwehm said the Do Something members involved in the program learned leadership, organizational and communication skills as a result of the food drive.
“If these (London Elementary) kids can’t eat, they can’t study,” said Huss. “That’s the impact of these kinds of programs. That’s what we’re going for…these transformational moments where these (ATU) kids suddenly stop being kids and start being members of a community. That feeling is addictive.
“Post-COVID, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the students being disengaged,” continued Huss. “We shouldn’t be complacent about that because it doesn’t have to be that way. We told them on day one about what is possible, but I don’t think they believed us until this. Now, they’re starting to gain momentum and they’re starting to realize we really can do something.”
Schwehm said he believes the networks created through organizations such as Do Something play an integral role in student success.
“In addition to giving the students the practical space to apply the things they’ve learned and in addition to helping them make positive change in the community, they are becoming more connected to each other,” said Schwehm. “Engaged students graduate. I’m hopeful these (Do Something) students go back to where they call home, talk to their siblings, talk to their teachers and this becomes something that draws students to Tech.”
For now, there are several dozen students at London Elementary who don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from. That makes their principal very happy.
“You have no idea how many of our students depend on this program,” said Correia. “This program makes sure our students have what they need over the weekends. We fill up our backpacks with as much food as we can, so we know our students have something.
“It made us feel so loved and thankful,” continued Correia. “That is what we as educators pride ourselves in, which is the well-being of our students. To see someone from the outside take the initiative to show they care as well means more to us than anything. The amount of effort put into this donation was amazing. I couldn’t stop hugging each of the Tech students. The ATU Do Something organization did more than I ever dreamed of. I can’t thank you all enough.”