The week before winter holiday break is typically a time of joy and celebration at the Brockton Public Schools. While the pandemic has put the in-person celebrations on hold, teachers across the district were determined to find new and creative ways to celebrate with their students.
For AnnaLee Weatherbee, a third-grade teacher at the Downey Elementary School, the highlight of the season is welcoming her grandmother into her classroom to meet her students and to gift them each a pair of socks that she knitted. Weatherbee was determined to keep the tradition alive so she reached out to her brother-in-law, Brockton Police Lieutenant William Schlieman, to ask for his help. Together, the duo came up with an idea for teachers to partner with BPD officers to deliver gifts to students across the city.
“I needed them to know I’m here for them, and I love them all. You can’t relay that through a computer screen,” explained AnnaLee. “They needed to feel my love in person. When Will mentioned his idea to me, it was the happiest and most excited I have felt since March.”
“We were able to pair up a total of 22 BPS staff with police officers on 21 separate ride-alongs over five days,” said Lt. Schlieman. “We got a mix of elementary teachers, music teachers, middle school teachers, a paraprofessional, school nurses, a physical education teacher and a parent engagement specialist. Each teacher visited between 15 and 30 students. Our efforts allowed us to meet face-to-face with hundreds of students and many of their siblings.”
In total, the group delivered gifts to about 400 students beginning on the morning of Saturday, December 19. Parents and guardians were notified in advance and asked to have their students ready with masks on prior to the delivery.
“Our officers jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it. Some dressed in Christmas gear as they helped put a smile on dozens of student's faces," beamed Chief Gomes. "We were honored to assist teachers to navigate around the city so they could see their students in person for the first time this year and present them with a gift. It was also a chance to meet and talk to police officers who work on their behalf every day. I heard that the officers were such a hit they shattered any negative police stereotypes some might have had and formed new friendships. That's great! We look forward to helping out again if needed.”
Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan said this initiative is a testament to the collaborative spirit he’s witnessed across the city throughout the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, the residents in our community have rolled up their sleeves and done what is necessary to give our young people a sense of normalcy in what has been an exceptionally abnormal year. It gives me great pride to see two of our city departments work together to make the holidays special for children in Brockton,” said Mayor Sullivan.
BPS Superintendent Michael Thomas lauded Weatherbee and educators across the school district for doing their best to keep holiday traditions alive.
“Our teachers have gone above and beyond to retain some of the holiday magic for our kids,” said Thomas. “I’ve heard of some teachers standing in long lines at the Post Office to mail small gifts to their students. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work our Music Department put into hosting virtual holiday concerts for our students and families. Building these memories means as much to our teachers as it does to our students.”