NEW BRITAIN – When Manuel Zaldivar, interim principal for Chamberlain Elementary School, told his wife he was going to drive to 24 towns and visit 50 of his teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week, she said he was crazy.
“Our teachers give so much to our students and I wanted to do something that would show them that I really care about them,” Zaldivar said.
The school typically holds a celebratory luncheon with treats for the teachers. But since the pandemic forced the schools to shut down and pivot to distance learning, Zaldivar was determined to express his appreciation through something more tangible.
He proceeded to make lawn signs that said “We Love Our Teachers, Chamberlain Elementary School,” followed by a heart doodle to drop off at the teachers’ houses. A map was created for his 470-mile route and he was ready for his two-day adventure.
“I really enjoyed going around and seeing where my teachers are from,” Zaldivar said. “Having a visual representation of where they come from is an important perspective to have as we continue to build a relationship with them. But the main thing for me, as someone in leadership, the love, care and support needs to come straight from me.”
The reaction from teachers was a mix of happiness, excitement and surprise. Some were out running errands only to come back to find a nice surprise standing in their lawn, while others were at home and saw the interim principal cruising down the street.
“Sometimes I’d park in front of the house to see if the teachers are home in the most non-creepy way possible,” Zaldivar said with a laugh. “Some would come to the window and wave or come out and cheer. It was a great feeling putting out the signs and seeing their reactions; it was phenomenal.”
Teachers have been posting the signs and photos on Facebook, sharing the love and good feelings. Beth Wasik Schmidt posted a photo of her two children, Jameson and Rylynn Schmidt, on their lawn with the sign with big smiles, thanking their principal for such a wonderful surprise. Another teacher, Jesenia Rivera-Ayala, said in a Facebook post that “we at Chamberlain Elementary are blessed to have Manuel Zaldivar leading us. Thank you for your strength and love for us all especially now during this crazy time. My principal rocks!”
After 13 hours on the road, the sense of accomplishment was palpable for Zaldivar, who said he was so excited he called his wife the moment he was done and was just so giddy with delight.
“It’s a very warm feeling to be able to let the teachers know that we’re here not just for now, but all the time. To keep that school culture in this temporary virtual world is important,” he said. “I also wanted them to know that I see all the hard work that they’re doing. It’s not going unnoticed.”
Contact Catherine Shen at 860-801-5093 or firstname.lastname@example.org