school supplies

A new Facebook group is connecting teachers with those in the community who want to donate supplies for the upcoming school year as educators finally return to classrooms for the first time since spring amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

Indiana County Adopt-a-Teacher was started less than a week ago by Brandi Ports, a former medic and college instructor who is now a bus driver in the Indiana Area School District. Already, the page has more than 950 members.

Ports, who moved to Indiana from Louisiana in 2016, is also behind two other popular local Facebook groups: Indiana County Bear Hunt, which swelled to 3,000 members, and Indiana County Adopt-a-Senior, both born out of her desire to help the community connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have a penchant and a passion for bringing groups together,” Ports said.

The bear hunt page encouraged residents to place stuffed teddy bears in their windows for others to find as they drove around during the coronavirus-related lockdown in the spring. The Adopt-a-Senior initiative was geared toward supporting high school seniors who missed out on several milestones due to the pandemic.

“Here I am again, trying to bring kindness and love into our community by honoring you: the you who molds little minds and ensures our kids leave your care, ready to move on to their next level; the you who worries and wonders what’s next, while trying to maintain a stoic presence in front of others; the you who we know spends your own money to buy things you feel would enrich your kids’ learning experience the you who doesn’t feel like teaching is work, because it is your passion,” she wrote on the Facebook page.

“My hope and prayer is that we can continue to support you throughout the school year. We know this is a unique year, and we want you to know you have our commitment to see you through it!” she wrote.

Teachers can create a wish list on Amazon, share the link to the Facebook group, and anything bought from the list is shipped to the teacher, then disappears from the wish list, Ports said.

She said she has talked to teachers who have told her they routinely spend from $500 to $1,200 out of their own pocket for classroom supplies, and this year the need is greater — educators say they also need hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and Clorox wipes.

The idea is to help alleviate the teachers’ financial burden, particularly as a way of thanking them for their flexibility and hard work after schools closed in March, necessitating uncharted territory with online learning, Ports said.

Some of the educators who have posted on the page include:

• Cori Livingston, a kindergarten teacher at McCreery Elementary in the Marion Center School District.

• Kristen Bytner, a speech/language pathologist in the Indiana Area School District, who included why the items would benefit her.

• Lisa Weaver, a reading specialist at Homer-Center Elementary who is starting her 26th year of teaching.

• Alyssa Phillips, who teaches third-grade ELA and social studies at McCreery Elementary. “This year will be different than years past because students will need their own set of ‘germ-free’ supplies,” she wrote.

• Emily Miller, a learning support teacher at Blairsville Elementary.

• Leigh Heidenthal, a first-grade teacher at East Pike Elementary.

• Kelli Heming Griffith, a kindergarten teacher at United Elementary.

• Krista Bearer, a teacher at Indiana County Head Start, who wrote, “Thank you and good luck to all of the other teachers out there. We got this!”

• Susan Moore, who teaches fourth-grade English language arts at Marion Center.

• Melissa Horn, who teaches pre-kindergarten at Penns Manor Area.

• Jillian Fu, who is in her first year teaching English at Indiana Area Junior High.

• Vera Roman Leonard, a third-grade teacher at St. Bernard Regional Catholic School, who is starting her 36th year of teaching.

• Keri Miller, who is teaching sixth grade at United after teaching third-graders for almost 30 years.

• Carrie Schneider, a second-grade teacher moving this year to East Pike.

• Shannon Redinger, a third-grade teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary.

• Kandi McCabe, who teaches high school math at Purchase Line High School.

• Jenna Yurky, who is starting her 15th year as a Marion Center kindergarten teacher.

• Diane Antonacci, a fifth-grade teacher at Blairsville Elementary who is starting her 20th year of teaching.

• Jessica Scardina, who teaches fourth-grade reading/ELA and art at Blairsville. “Although these supplies would be great to have, above all, I’d appreciate your prayers for students, teachers, and the people making the decisions concerning schools,” Scardina wrote.

• Kaitlyn Deptola, a fifth-grade teacher at Penns Manor, who wrote, “This past school year was my very first year as a teacher — definitely something I will never forget!”

• Katelyn Waterhouse, a middle school teacher at St. Bernard Regional Catholic School. “This is amazing, generous, and thoughtful mission to help support teachers! This is truly spreading kindness like confetti,” she wrote.

Ports said the group is open to anyone in education, including day cares and Head Start, in Indiana County and surrounding counties.

“I hope it catches on,” she said.