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Actress Kristen Bell inspires flood of school supply donations thanks to Phillips Avenue teacher

August and September are traditionally when students, parents and teachers scramble to stock up on school supplies for the year ahead.

But by March, most of those stockpiles have run low and teachers may find themselves dipping into their own wallets to provide supplies for their students.

A study released last year by the National Center of Education Statistics found that during the 2014-15 school year, 94% of public school teachers nationwide spent an average of $479 of their own money on notebooks, pens and other materials — without reimbursement.

In an effort to help teachers get what they need, actress Kristen Bell joined the #10FeaturedTeachers movement, an Instagram contest that helps crowdfund school supplies for teachers.

Each week, Ms. Bell features the photo and story of a different teacher — and puts a link in her bio to the teacher’s Amazon wish list. Ms. Bell tasks her 10 million followers with purchasing the items on the wish list, which range from the basics to items you might not think of: umbrellas for students who walk to school or snacks for kids from food insecure households.

Last month, the featured teacher was Tonya Gonzalez from Phillips Avenue Elementary School. 

After responding to the Instagram contest in December, Ms. Gonzalez figured she hadn’t been selected. “I kind of put it aside and forgot about it until [Ms. Bell] reached out to me in March,” she said Monday. “We talked about the school, how amazing the students are and how important it is for them to feel recognized.”





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Happy #FeaturedTeacherFriday everyone! 📚🎈Today’s amazing teacher is Tonya Gonzalez from Long Island! Here’s her story: “I have been teaching for two years in a Title 1 school on Long Island, New York as a 4th grade bilingual teacher. These two years have been the best years of my life! I absolutely love what I do and my students have made me a stronger and more positive person. No matter what is happening at home or in their lives, they come into my classroom with a huge smile ready to start the day! My school is a supportive and fun-filled diverse family. My entire class consists of 27 English Language Learners with many being new to the United States. The population is about 70% Hispanic 30% African American and Caucasian. Their journeys here are an inspiration and one of the many reasons I advocate for them. Supplies are very limited in the classroom and my students are struggling to get by at home. Many of our students come from low-income families and qualify for low and reduced lunch, and for some the school is their main source of food. My school tries their best to provide food and resources to our families. I try my best to support my students in whatever they need – school supplies or snacks. Since I teach a bilingual classroom, students have the opportunity to express their knowledge of reading and writing in both English and Spanish. This opportunity would help me provide books for my classroom library, especially in Spanish. This would help me create a multicultural diverse environment in the classroom. I teach my students to be proud of who they are and where they are from! Any help would be amazing!” Let’s help Tonya and her students and send books and snacks galore their way- her amazon wishlist is in my bio THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Love you guys. 💗📚


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Soon after being featured on Ms. Bell’s Instagram page, packages began arriving at her Phillips Avenue classroom. The nearly 200 packages contained her entire wish list: chapter books for her fourth-grade students, games, gardening supplies and an incubator for chicks.

“One morning I had all of the packages in the front of the classroom. I was watching [the students’] reaction as they got off the bus and walked into class.”

Her students were in disbelief, filled with gratitude to people who sent packages from all over the United States and even Canada.

Ms. Gonzalez said the donations will help jumpstart projects she wanted to do as a class but didn’t have the budget for. “The students are very excited about the incubator, since we’ve been learning about the life cycle,” she said, noting that they plan to hatch the chicks when students return from spring break.

Every box also came with a note of support addressed to Ms. Gonzalez and her 27 students, who she said are more than deserving of the recognition. 

“My students have made me a stronger and more positive person. No matter what is happening at home or in their lives, they come into my classroom with a huge smile ready to start the day,” Ms. Gonzalez wrote in her original pitch to Ms. Bell.

Ms. Gonzalez began teaching at Phillips Avenue in 2017. She said her two years at the school have been the best of her life. “I was immediately drawn to the teachers and the students. I had a lot in common with them,” said Ms. Gonzalez, whose parents hail from El Salvador and Puerto Rico. 

Many of her students are English Language Learners. Demographically, she said, Phillips Avenue students are approximately 70% Hispanic and 30% African-American and Caucasian.

It is classified as a Title 1 school because many students come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

She said the supplies will help her create a multicultural environment in her classroom. “A big part of that is making sure the students don’t forget who they are. They speak Spanish and English. I try to reinforce that because it is an important skill to have. It will better their future,” she said.

“I teach my students to be proud of who they are and where they are from,” she said.

In addition to the packages from supporters around the world, NBC donated $1,000 to Phillips Avenue as part of the contest.

“My students are so grateful,” she said, adding that the children are at work creating handwritten thank-you notes to their supporters and Ms. Bell. “She’s a big advocate for teachers.”

Photo caption: Tonya Gonzalez from Phillips Avenue Elementary School joins her students with some of the donated supplies. (Credit: Riverhead Central School District)

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