The love and generosity of a retired elementary school teacher from Linden is helping a former colleague to go above and beyond for her students – and causing ripple effects of kindness throughout the school.
School No. 10 technology teacher Kim Kefalas wanted to get lapel microphones for her students to use with their district-issued iPads to make it easier for them to complete projects while wearing masks. So she created a project on the DonorsChoose fundraising website seeking donations for the $339 needed to buy the microphones.
Rita Cruz Suarez, a teacher who retired from School No. 10 at the end of last school year, came through and donated the entire amount.
“What a great way of paying it forward,” said Kefalas. “We are so thankful to Ms. Cruz Suarez. I always teach kindness, and it’s so nice when it comes back to you. It’s perfect for our school motto, ‘The Little School With the Biggest Heart.’”
Kefalas invited Cruz Suarez to visit the school Monday, Jan. 31, so she could be there when Kefalas surprised the students with their new microphones. The students were so excited at their new tools that they applauded and hugged Cruz Suarez. Kefalas gave her flowers and a hug, as well.
Cruz Suarez, who taught first-grade and taught at School No. 10 for 23 years, said she just wanted to help Kefalas, who does “many wonderful things” with her technology students.
“I just felt compelled to participate and support her project,” Cruz Suarez said. “All of us, and the children especially, have gone through some crazy times recently. I just feel that they need something good to happen and something they can learn from and pay it forward.”
In that spirit, School No. 10 is launching the “Pay It Forward Challenge” for students throughout the month of February.
“Ms. Suarez did this asking nothing in return. So what she wants is for you to pay it forward,” Kefalas told her students after surprising them with the microphones. “Does that mean she wants you to go out and buy 40 microphones for a friend? No. She wants you to do something kind for somebody else for no reason at all. It’s easy. Someone needs a pencil? You let someone borrow a pencil. That’s paying it forward. Hold the door for somebody. Help someone when they need help. We’re talking little things.”
Kefalas originally was hoping to reach her goal with several smaller donations through DonorsChoose, a national non-profit that allows teachers to tap into a network of millions of online donors to support classroom projects and district initiatives.
Linden Public Schools developed a partnership with DonorChoose and encourages staff members to use it to initiate fundraising efforts that benefit students. Kefalas and other teachers in the district currently have other projects posted on DonorsChoose, hoping to collect money to enhance students’ learning and school life.
Cruz Suarez hopes that her gesture has a lasting impact on the school she called home for so many years, in more opportunities for the tech students and a kinder atmosphere for all.
“For me, it’s something that the children needed to put a smile on their face,” she said, “and if all the children can do that for just one other person and make them smile, then I’ve done my job.”