Every year, the Groton (N.Y.) Elementary School staff participates in the Adopt-a-Family program to ensure a joyous holiday season for all its children.
This year, in a pleasantly generous-spirited twist, SUNY Cortland’s international academic honor society in education, Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), has adopted the Groton Elementary School.
The College students got involved after the school’s principal, Tim Heller, realized that — for the first time in recent memory — the many community organizations, families, volunteers and staff who regularly help the school’s struggling families simply couldn’t support the holiday wishes of every child.
“I think it’s just a commentary on the economic hardships the area is facing; the loss of jobs,” Heller said. “In many of our families, one or more parents are not working. In my eight years here the need has risen.”
By Heller’s calculation, the tots in eight families would be disappointed this holiday season unless their families got some help.
Because of the Groton School District’s close partnership with SUNY Cortland’s School of Education, Heller immediately thought of having college students join the effort. He called Renee Potter, a professor in the College’s Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department, hoping she could suggest a student organization that might help.
Kappa Delta Pi stepped up to rapidly organize a campaign, getting assistance from members of the Education Club and some 25 to 30 students and staff in the Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department.
Over Thanksgiving break all the participants went shopping for the families or collected donations from family and friends back home.
“We asked if everyone could do at least one gift, or if they couldn’t afford that, to contribute a needed school supply through a $1 donation,” said Jennifer Barry, KDP’s co-president. “But many of them picked all four needs of the family member.”
Groton’s Adopt-a-Family formula gives each child four requested items, including three necessities, such as clothing, and one toy or similar “fun” item.
To date, the campaign has received about 70 gifts in response to requested needs, according to Barry, a senior from Hauppage, N.Y., and KDP’s other co-president, Rachel Kolod, a senior childhood/early childhood education major from East Syracuse, N.Y. They were to drop off the gifts at the school Wednesday, Dec. 11.
“I think our families are very appreciative,” Heller said. “Many Groton families are consistently in the program, inquiring about joining it in early October. And many groups help to make it happen each year, including St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Groton, the Cornell Elves and the PTO. Some of these groups do the shopping and wrapping together.”
“Our students didn't hesitate to step up and take this on,” said Andrea Lachance, dean of the School of Education. “They all took home shopping lists for Thanksgiving and returned to campus with the gifts.”
|The Kappa Delta Pi Co-presidents Jennifer Barry and Rachel Kolod, left and right respectively, show some of the collected donated items for the Adopt-a-Family program.|
Since Fall 2012, the department has enjoyed a close collaboration with the Groton District as its undergraduates engage in a unique, two-week immersion program to learn about the workings of real classrooms. The aspiring educators forego their regular, on-campus classes and follow every aspect of a first- through sixth-grader’s busy day. Groton teachers, for their part, are glad to have the students available to help work one-on-one with the youngsters.
“This is a great example of how these school partnerships lead to deeper relationships and connections between the College and members of the community,” Lachance said. “And it’s just another example of how our students are quick to respond to this kind of need.”
For Barry and Kolod, helping families in need was already a holiday tradition.
“Every year my family adopts a whole family and our aunts, uncles and cousins donate to this instead of to us,” noted Kolod.
“I’ve taken part in church events including the giving trees,” Barry added. “The constant feeling of giving is an encouraging feeling.”
Barry and Kolod assert that community service is built right into the KDP.
“Usually there’s a theme every year and this year’s theme was literacy,” Kolod said. Since Valerie Behr became the honor society’s academic advisor several years ago, members have sought new ways to raise the group’s profile.
“We wanted to show everyone that this is the way to go,” Kolod said. “We hope then our peers will strive to be members of this society.”
Barry also hopes to elevate SUNY Cortland students in the public’s eyes.
“We wanted to remind everyone that we really do care about the community,” she said. “As education majors we are more than willing to support the community in positive ways.”