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Amazon brings more the smiles to pair of local elementaries

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - It wasn’t a Brad Paisley or Taylor Swift concert, but the students and teachers at Shepherdsville and Nichols Elementary still received a special surprise.

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Corporate employees from Amazon.com fulfilled teacher wish lists and personally delivered items to the schools as part of the company’s Teacher’s Classroom Wishes Come True program.

The event was a total surprise at each school, with the company secretly working through Shepherdsville/Nichols Family Resource Coordinator Traci Gould to plan individual school assemblies.

Gould was first contacted about the program in July, after Amazon contacted Bullitt County Public School about the idea. She sent an email to each certified teacher, requesting a wish list for the FRC to have on file for future assistance.

“Some of them made generic wish list requests,” Gould said. “They started out small, but I asked them to include big list items. Some just asked for basic school supplies. Shepherdsville had 12 new teachers, so they really didn’t have anything.”

Amazon donated a total of $15,000 worth of supplies to the teachers. Gould said each teacher received an individual box, with about $350-$400 worth of donated items.

“(The items) were based on Amazon’s price,” she said. “Some of the specialized areas got a little more, because they deal with more kids.”

The individual boxes were taken to each school, where the Amazon Associates team members secretly gathered on stages and awaited the big announcement.

“This presentation was entirely organized by Amazon with tremendous help from Traci Gould,” said Amazon corporate representative Amanda Ip. “We have been making back to school donations to teachers across the United States but we work with each school to find the best way to surprise the teachers.”

According to Ip, Shepherdsville Elementary was selected locally because many Amazon employees had children attending the school. Nichols was included because Gould served as FRC coordinator at both schools.

“We choose schools that were located in the community where our associates live and work,” Ip said. “We wanted to support the schools that had the greatest need.”

 

Welcome to the Future

 

No one at Shepherdsville knew what was going to take place, including principal David Pate. He said the front office believed country music artist Brad Paisley was coming to perform.

“I just put total trust in Traci that she was doing something good,” he said.

According to Pate, Gould asked for a 30-minute assembly and could not tell him anything else.

“I didn’t want students to miss reading time,” he said. “But she couldn’t tell me. It was blind faith.”

Pate was joined by the entire Shepherdsville student body, as well as BCPS superintendent Keith Davis, school board members Delores Ashby and Lorraine McLaughlin and state Rep. Linda Belcher.

They were all introduced to Al Ondreka, director of fulfillment at Amazon’s Shepherdsville location, who had the honor of springing the big surprise.

“The teachers bring lots of their own resources to the classroom,” Ondreka said. “We applaud the teachers, and we have a surprise for (students) and teachers.”

That’s when the stage doors opened and the Shepherdsville community got their first glimpse at the surprise.

“I thought they had the boxes up there as props, but then they were all full,” Pate said.

Ondreka then invited each teacher to come up and receive their box from an Amazon employee. That’s when the ceremony really became an event.

Some of the teachers took their boxes back to where their classes sat, showing them what was inside. Others immediately dropped to the floor and ripped open the boxes like their students would do on Christmas morning.

“I’m in shock,” said reading specialist Karen German. “I don’t know what to say other than saying thank you. You wish you could do more to thank them.”

“I just think it’s amazing to show this kind of support,” added reading specialist Anna Schneider. “It’s appreciated more than they’ll know.”

Nearby, library/media specialist Julie Hobbs and arts/humanities instructor Ashley Schuette displayed items to students.

“We received canvasses, brushes…perfect items for the art room,” Schuette said.

Music instructor Stacey Stults was ecstatic when she opened her box to reveal a new stereo and microphone.

“Traci asked us for wish lists, but we had no idea where anything was coming from,” said Stults. “Amazon provided the music room with a brand new stereo.”

“The teachers, and the principals, were completely surprised and I saw a lot of emotion on their faces,” said Davis. “When businesses reach out with something like this, it is not just the supplies that make a difference. It is the recognition and the moral support.”

“It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Traci,” said Pate. “She does so many amazing things for our school. And she never does anything halfway.”

Following the assembly, Amazon employees visited individual classrooms with a few more items, most notably giant beanbags.

“We love doing this,” said Amazon employee Bobbi Kennell, who delivered a beanbag to Becky Mattingly’s classroom. “I feel just like Santa Claus.”

“The Amazon folks were as excited as the school folks,” Gould said. “The feedback off each other is what kept us going.”

“We were just honored that we were selected,” Pate said. “They could’ve selected anyone but for us it’s a privilege. What a morale booster! I couldn’t stop smiling. I thought it was unbelievable that they thought so much of our teachers and students.”

 

Today was a Fairytale

 

The afternoon event at Nichols also began as a total surprise to the school, with the students’ local rumor being an appearance by music artist Taylor Swift.

“Traci said it’s a surprise program,” said principal Sheri Hamilton. “I didn’t know anything until I saw the Amazon t-shirts. Our imaginations were running wild. The front office was keyed up, we thought it was going to be Brad Paisley.”

“The principals didn’t even know,” Gould said. “Amazon was very excited to hear that.”

Nichols students gathered in the gym for a similar presentation, with Ondreka praising the school’s teachers. Davis, McLaughlin and Ashby also attended the Nichols ceremony.

“(Ondreka) was great with the kids,” Davis said. “Really a natural, and all of the associates who pitched in to help were great.”

“I want to recognize the hardest working people in the world, the teachers,” said Ashby, who was in on the secret this time around. “They dig into their own pockets. They do it for one thing, they care about you, the students.”

“Teachers put up their own costs,” said Hamilton. “Thanks to Amazon, these students will appreciate it and it will help improve student learning at Nichols.”

The first Nichols box went to Elizabeth Yates, who serves the school as arts, music, and physical education teacher.

“I received an email over the summer asking for wish list items,” Yates said. “I asked for wet wipes, pencils, the basics. Traci emailed me back and said think bigger.”

Yates received a new set of basketballs, which she said would go over big in the Nichols gymnasium.

“We have to pump the balls with air each day,” she said. “The kids will bounce one and it won’t come back up and they just look at you. This is really big.”

Yates also received a new parachute for use during PE classes, which was also popular. But it was three packs of gel pins for the art room that brought Yates to tears.

“It’s just something that is so needed and it will go such a long way,” she said.

The teacher excitement spilled over into student excitement, with one Kindergartner shouting in delight as teacher Jill Reverman held up a bottle of mouthwash.

“The Nichols Kindergarten got a new laminator,” Gould said. “(Fourth grade teacher Renee) Mayhew got a book shelf. Books were big, whether they were requested or not. Some teachers requested specific authors.”

“Traci Gould was terrific, as always, in working with Amazon to coordinate both the assemblies and the supplies,” Davis said.

“Teachers aren’t used to asking for things,” said Hamilton. “People don’t always realize what teachers do. It’s common for them to use their own money. They want their rooms to be ready for the kids.”

Hamilton was glad to see a company like Amazon get involved in the local community, especially assisting both schools and teachers.

“When the students run out of supplies, the parents can’t always replenish easily,” she said. “I did the same as a teacher. We don’t want to let our kids do without. That’s the nature of this school.”

According to Gould, social media “blew up that night with so much positivity from the Shepherdsville and Nichols community.”

“(Families) were expressing thanks to Amazon, but they went on to talk about how wonderful the teachers were,” Gould said. “For the teachers to see it, and the community to know they deserve it, that’s fun. Teachers don’t get to hear what they need to hear often enough.”

“Amazon extended a wonderful gesture in supporting the teachers of our community,” Davis said.

See more photos from the events in the multimedia section of www.pioneernews.net.