Meet Bill Donnelly, teacher at Forest Street School, New Jersey
We Asked Mr. Donnelly…
What age/grade do you teach?
I’m an ESL teacher (English as a Second Language), so I visit a range of elementary school grades rather than having one classroom on one grade level like a typical classroom teacher. Currently, I serve students in Grades 2 to 7.
How long have you been teaching?
4 ½ years
What do you love most about teaching? What made you become a teacher in the first place?
Prior to entering teaching as a second career in my early 50’s, there were two, long-term experiences in my background that influenced my decision to return to college, complete my undergraduate degree and become a Spanish teacher.
In my previous career with a national manufacturer of building products, I used my knowledge of Spanish continuously as a Spanish/English translator. From this experience, I knew I wanted to make Spanish the focus of my next career.
I had years of experience working with kids as a Cub Scout Den Leader, Assistant Cubmaster and Cubmaster of a pack of more than 100 children. I saw how rewarding it was to work with kids and I wanted to do more.
Who was the most influential teacher or administrator in your life, and why?
Interestingly enough, it was my first Spanish teacher, Rev. Joseph B. Di Peri at Oratory Prep. in Summit, NJ. He had a friendly, easy-going style, but high expectations for all his students. It was my first exposure to Spanish, but Father Di Peri made it easy by making it fun and by being very pleased with whatever we produced. The result always was that my 10th grade classmates and I were anxious and happy to produce more and more.
Do you spend money out of your own pocket on core school supplies for your students? Would you mind sharing how much on average?
Yes, it always has a way of happening. There is usually a small teacher-budget for supplies at the end of each school year, for use the following year. But once the new year begins, there are often unexpected needs that develop: new programs and projects not budgeted the year before, new students from foreign countries—who arrive with NO school supplies and NO money to buy them, and lots of additional school supplies, materials, incentives and props of all types that are needed (often right away) to conduct successful, engaging, thought-provoking lessons. Last school year, it ran as high as $40 to $60 per week, for a span of about 5 months. Most of the time, it’s more like $300 to $500 per year.
Does having access to school supplies really make a difference in the classrooms at your school, and to kids? If so, how?
Yes, access to school supplies makes a major difference. For example, to start the year a typical student needs 5 notebooks and 5 folders, in addition to the usual ruler, scissors, glue stick, pencils, erasers, sharpener, etc. The families of some students simply do not have the money to buy a coat, backpack, notebooks, folders, etc. So the student’s day is difficult and embarrassing as they do their work on single sheets of paper and try to keep track of it all without folders.
What do your students think about the One for You, One for Me idea?
Fortunately, I have been able to distribute donated Yoobi school supplies to my kids for two years in a row. They especially love the pencil cases with the brightly-colored, Yoobi toucan. I pre-pack the cases with a set-up of all the different, branded Yoobi school accessories. Then I often use these highly-prized, loaded pencil cases to welcome my “newcomer” students, just arrived from a foreign country, entering a US school for the first time, and badly in need of a smile and a friend. Just when they need it most, the Yoobi toucan and pencil case provide totally-cool versions of the school supplies that most of the other kids already have. As I pass them out, I tell the Yoobi story and explain that each time the Yoobi company sells something to a person who has money, they share another one with someone who doesn’t have money. No matter how young, they always smile when they hear this because everyone likes a story about sharing.
How will you use this idea/ lesson in your classroom?
As a teacher, I’m always looking for authentic examples of whatever I’m teaching. This generous Yoobi program not only teaches the morality of sharing with a stranger, it introduces lessons on community involvement, social responsibility, fairness and economics. But the outcome I like most of all is that the child who is a new arrival in our country, proudly carries the Yoobi products and story back to their families at home. This surprise gift of high-quality, school supplies then opens a positive dialogue between ESL teacher and family, and that connection invariably leads to student success from every direction.