As Reopening Date Approaches, Florida Teacher Launches GoFundMe So Her Students Can Wash Their Hands


Public school teachers across America have often resorted to using donations or their own funds to buy supplies to enhance their classrooms, but the coronavirus pandemic has one inner-city Florida elementary school teacher resorting to a GoFundMe account not to provide her students with craft projects, but the ability to wash their hands.

Eighty-seven percent of the students at Turie T. Small Elementary in Daytona, Florida are minorities; the school is 74.85 percent Black, 12.58 percent white, 7.42 percent Hispanic, and 5.15% two or more races. The school, which takes in students from multiple nearby housing projects, is the second or third poorest in the Volusia County, with 458 out of 474 students qualifying for free or reduced lunch: that’s 96.62 percent living in poverty.

Annette Fernandez teaches third grade there, and she’s worried. Her students will be attending school in person, assigned to a portable classroom with no running water. The students’ bathrooms are not close and there’s nowhere convenient to wash their hands, a key recommendation to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Public school systems have tight budgets in normal years; the pandemic has decimated them further. There is no room in the budget to move her into a permanent classroom or install plumbing. Fernandez did some research and decided that a portable hand-washing station would be helpful to keep her students safe. The model Fernandez found was on wheels with separate reservoirs for clean and waste water, a refillable liquid soap dispenser, and even the ability to generate hot water if the unit was plugged in.

Now the challenge was finding a way to pay for its over $1,400 cost.

Only a few weeks remain before school restarts. Teachers return for pre-planning on August 11, and the students arrive on August 31. Fernandez spoke to her principal about the idea of a portable sink, and she thought it was a great idea but confirmed they had no budget for one. She would, however, allow Fernandez to bring one on campus if she could figure out how to raise funds for it.

Fernandez posted a GoFundMe page, asking for people to “help me and my wonderful 18 students raise money to have a hand washing station in our classroom,” with an initial $1,500 goal.

Mediaite spoke to Fernandez over the phone Sunday evening after seeing a tweet sharing Fernandez’s page by Politico reporter Marc Caputo.

“I was just thinking about how much classroom time I was going to be losing,” Fernandez said regarding the idea of having to repeatedly send students to an inconveniently far restroom multiple times a day.

She told Mediaite that she has been a teacher for twenty-two years, and taught in Volusia County for four. The eighteen students who will walk in her classroom on August 31 are very special to her: this will be the third year she’s been their teacher.

Small Elementary launched what they called a “looping” program a few years ago, in which teachers would teach a class for a year and then follow with them to the next grade to teach them for one more year, and then drop back down a grade and repeat the two-year process with a new group of students.

Fernandez started teaching her current students as first graders, and followed them to second grade when the pandemic hit and they were sent home.

“I ended up loving it [looping], and we didn’t finish this year off so I felt like I owed them to finish what I started with them,” she said. “I literally begged to go to third grade with them.”

During our conversation, I checked the GoFundMe page and it was already over $1,800, exceeding her initial goal of $1,500, which Fernandez was shocked but delighted to learn, because there are ten other classes in portables just at Small Elementary.

Providing each one of those classrooms a portable sink would cost about $15,000, Fernandez’s new hope.

“These kids mean a lot to me, they’re like my babies,” she continued, “They’re awesome, awesome children, seriously.”

The enthusiasm in her voice dimmed as she talked about her “biggest fear” about returning to the classroom in a few weeks — not for herself, but for her students.

“At the end of he day,” said Fernandez, “I love these children, and if one of them got sick and didn’t make it, I don’t know how I’d go back and teach there.”

“So that’s why I’m doing this. I just need resources to know I’m doing the best I can to keep my students safe and healthy.”

An update Fernandez posted on the GoFundMe Sunday evening expressed her thanks to all the people who donated to meet her goal, and reaffirmed her commitment to use any extra funds to buy additional portable sinks for other classes in portables, plus soap and paper towels.

“I am in complete awe of the support my students and I are receiving,” she wrote. “We have met our goal and if we receive more, than we will purchase another portable hand washing sink for another teacher in a portable. Any left over funds will be used to purchase soap and paper towels. We are so thankful and my heart is full. Thank you!!”

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