Jerry Poe has been teaching in Naperville School District 203 for 22 years and he's been on a lot of field trips. Yet, in all his years, he's never been on a field trip like the one he experienced Tuesday.
With "We – love – teachers!" being yelled and screamed repeatedly, Poe and five other fifth grade teachers from Steeple Run Elementary School entered the atrium of OfficeMax's corporate headquarters in Naperville. More than 1,000 people, including 120 fifth graders from Steeple Run, filled the five-story atrium.
"I was totally surprised," Poe said. "It's extremely flattering."
The surprises, however, were far from over. The teachers thought their students' were at Office Max to participate in a focus group about school supplies. That was just a cover.
In reality, OfficeMax brought the teachers and students to its corporate headquarters to be part of A Day Made Better. Every October, for the past four years, OfficeMax has donated $1,000 worth of school supplies to 1,000 teachers across the country to help end teacher-funded classrooms.
"We had 1,000 surprises all over North America today," said Bob Thacker, senior vice-president of marketing for OfficeMax. "We wanted to find a way to bring this experience to you, so we're brining school here."
Thacker awarded Brian Laughlin, a fifth grade teacher, with a certificate of recognition and a large orange box. With an invitation from Thacker, Laughlin's students engulfed the stage, as if it was Christmas morning, to open the box. The students found a digital camera, pencil sharpener, tape, scissors, paper clips, dry erase markers and more supplies for their teacher. Laughlin also received a printer and new office chair.
Thacker had one more surprise to share as the five other teachers looked on.
"All our teachers are recipients," he said.
Margo Winder, Meredith Kline, Maureen Nolan, Jessica Schleimer and Poe all received identical certificates and boxes as Laughlin.
"I couldn't be more grateful," Poe said. "This will make a huge difference in our kids' lives. I'm totally stunned."
Steeple Run Elementary principal Karen Currier agreed with Poe's sentiments. An educator for 27 years, Currier felt pride as her staff was recognized for their outstanding achievements in the classroom.
"It's most important that people realize the hard work these teachers do every day," Currier said. "The supplies will help us with our kids. We couldn't ask for anything better."
District 203 Superintendent Mark Mitrovich said he felt a little intimidated standing in front of the large crowd. But, he had no problems explaining how the supplies will help students in Naperville achieve their potential.
"There's great promise here," Mitrovich said of the students. "It's the enlightened leadership of OfficeMax, and what you do for education, that makes our lives better."
Sam Duncan, OfficeMax's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, is part of the leadership that developed A Day Made Better. Duncan is retiring at the end of February 2011, but hopes his vision will continue.
"There's no better gift than this. Continue this as long as you can," Duncan said. "Let's just level the playing field. It's up to people like us."