"We know the pandemic did not affect all of us equally," said teacher Jamel Holmes, and he does what he can to ameliorate that at the East Bronx Academy for the Future. An Excellence in Education Award winner, Holmes delivers care packages to the families of former and current students, everything from food to hygiene products to laundry detergent to books.
"It’s really dependent on the need," he said.
Holmes graduated from East Bronx Academy in 2008. Ten years later, after serving as a paraprofessional in District 7, he returned there to teach.
“You need to have certain things: food, shelter, water, clothing, warmth,” said Holmes. “If you have to worry about where you are going to get food, how can you concentrate or be expected to go into a school building or be online actively participating?”
A 6th-grade Integrated Co-Teaching teacher in the 6th–12th-grade school, Holmes says, “The effective educator speaks the language of their students and knows their needs beyond the classroom. As I think about the pandemic, I know I could not allow time to pass without doing everything possible to support my families and give them an extra hand as they needed it.”
By checking in with students, Holmes knew there was a need. Parents were losing jobs.
He also knew some families won’t accept help, so presentation is key. “If you come from a good place, folks are more prone to want to receive,” he said. “I find ways to say, ‘Hey, I have these extra things and if we were in the classroom I would be able to supply them, but I know your child is working from home. Is it OK if I drop them off?’”
Holmes packs the parcels himself and recently teamed up with the local 42nd Police Precinct for delivery. Early in the pandemic, he was funding everything himself. Soon, friends and family stepped up, donating money and supplies.
Holmes stays transparent, using social media to share pictures. He has also started utilizing DonorsChoose, kicking off his newest campaign, “Stepping Into My Students’ Shoes,” with his own $500 donation. It will mean new sneakers for 30 students.
“I live by the quote, ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’” he said, explaining that his job is to support students and know who they are as learners and as individuals.
“It brings me joy knowing I can do for others,” Holmes said. “I feel like only what we do for others will last.”