Red Hawk Ridge Principal Kait Whitaker pointed out the obvious to the students gathered in the gym on Sept. 11.
"That's $10,000," Whitaker said, holding up an oversized check donated by officials the from Burlington department store chain. The number 10,000 was clearly printed out on the giant cardboard check, and the students screamed with enthusiasm when they saw the total. "Each of our teachers will receive an equal portion of this to do things to better your classrooms."
The news came as a pleasant surprise to those teachers, all of whom were standing on stage with Whitaker and Burlington District Manager Andrew Montoya and Arapahoe Crossing Store Manager Jose Rocha. They'd been told they were reporting to the gym for an assembly celebrating the school's Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, or PBIS, program and accomplishments.
Instead, the entire corps of Red Hawk Ridge teachers were called on to the stage and presented with exciting news: As part of the store's national Adopt A Classroom program, Burlington would donate $10,000 to the school. Specifically, the donation came from the new Burlington outpost across Arapahoe Road from Red Hawk Ridge.
The element of surprise was no accident. Whitaker and a very select group of school administrators had worked hard to keep the generous gift under wraps so that the dedicated group of educators would be caught off guard during the ceremony, the first all-school gathering of the 2018-19 academic year.
"It was so difficult to keep it a secret. I had a couple of people in on it," Whitaker said. "We had to create a decoy … I just wanted to make sure our teachers knew to just show up. I was beyond excited."
That excitement quickly spread to teachers and students alike, as Whitaker, Montoya and Rocha made the official announcement during the assembly. The hundreds of students in the gym whooped and hollered, and the teachers themselves wore expressions that mingled shock and gratitude in equal parts.
It was a reaction that pleased the Burlington representatives, who spoke about the value of Red Hawk Ridge's educators and the importance of their work. Rocha said the giveaway was a way to build local ties that go beyond the store and that positively affect all members of the community.
"We understand that teachers spend a lot of money out of their own pocket every year," Rocha said. "We want to be a part of community and help them in their important work."
Specifically, Burlington's donation campaign through adoptaclassroom.org seeks to support teachers – their mission, their vision and their unique approaches to education.
"What we want to do today is to really bring up the teachers and surprise them. We want to thank them for all of the hard work that they do," Montoya said. "We want to reward them."
The money will help teachers realize their own unique vision in their classrooms, even as it will go toward the wider educational mission at the school and district level. Teachers at Red Hawk Ridge and across the Cherry Creek School District have been focused on finding ways to encourage innovation in the classroom. Along with the new innovation spaces that will go up in every single elementary and middle school in the district, this money will help see that goal realized.
"This is amazing. It's one of those things that you never expect, but it's so unbelievably appreciated," Whitaker said. "We're leaving it up to the teachers in terms of how they use the funds to make their classrooms more innovative … They're going to be able to decide what's best for their students."