NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to bring NJ teachers a new monthly series in 2017 that will celebrate the stories of 12 NJ educators: their joys, their struggles, their personal reflections on what it is to be a teacher. To bring you these portraits, we’ve partnered with photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. We hope that you enjoy these “Portraits of the Jersey Teacher.” We’re kicking the series off early with a special holiday profile of an Asbury Park teacher bringing holiday cheer to some children in need. Enjoy!

“I always knew I wanted to work with kids. There is a lot of joy in teaching them. When I was younger, I read a lot of statistics that stated that getting kids a good education early in their lives helped them to make better choices later in life. That inspired me to be a teacher. I used to work with at-risk teens who were court-ordered to work with me, and I asked myself, ‘How can we reach them before they get to this point?’ And now I am a teacher for a Head Start program called Acelero Learning in Asbury Park. We have a curriculum called “Creative Curriculum,” which teaches them more than their letters and numbers and shapes. It teaches them about the world around them, like about ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ and life skills. I work with three-year-olds. We keep them until kindergarten.

“My school is in Asbury Park, and all of our kids that come to us live below the poverty line. Some of them live with their families in one bedroom apartments, others live in shelters. So we serve them breakfast and lunch. We also do eye screenings and dental screenings through our program, as well as other ways to help them where their families may not have the means to do so themselves. The biggest concern for me is to be able to identify any further needs they may have, like if a child comes to school in the middle of winter wearing three sweaters. I will look into it and see if maybe they need a coat for the winter, things like that. I try to look at each child as a whole. I always make sure the parents do not feel bad if they cannot meet the needs of their children. I understand. They all live beneath the poverty line, many far below the poverty line. I never want them to feel bad, because they are doing the best they can. I just do what I can to help.

“I am really excited about what we are doing for Christmas this year. We picked forty-four of our most needy kids, and we were able to make sure they got presents for Christmas this year. It all started last year when a child told me he wasn’t getting any presents for Christmas. I asked my friends if they could help me and they were so generous that we actually wound up with so many presents that we were able to give to some other children as well.

“This year that has expanded, and I collaborated with the Family Advocates, who work with the children’s families. They came up with the list of the families with the biggest needs. Then we found people who wanted to help us meet the needs of the kids. We ask for practical needs to be met, like jackets or shoes or gloves, as well as a present for each kid. Each person who ‘adopts’ a child and gets them a present for Christmas is going to get a ‘Thank You’ letter back from the child. I will get all the presents, and am having the teens from my youth group meet me at my church and help me wrap all of the gifts. Then the parents of our school kids will be able to pick up the gifts from school, and they will have the gifts to give their children for Christmas. This is why I teach, to be able to make these kinds off connections to the kids, and to their families. I love it.”

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