Photo by Liz Lynch

Editors' Pick

Three Teachers Who Really Stepped Up

Margaret Norris

Margaret Norris, a kindergarten teacher at Arcola Elementary School in Silver Spring, says many people don’t realize the extent of poverty in the county. As the need grew last year, her Title I school provided meals for students, but Norris also wanted to give families groceries so they could make dinners for themselves. She put the word out on social media, and neighbors, friends, family and fellow teachers responded. Every week since mid-March, she’s worked with other volunteers to fill more than 100 bags of donated food for struggling families—the work started at her Kensington home, then moved to a nearby community center. The bags contain about 10 pounds of food, including rice, beans, canned vegetables, pasta and a treat for the kids, along with fresh produce. Norris says one mom sends her a text every week with a picture of something she’s cooked. A recent message read: Thanks, I used everything. “She’s so unhappy about having to take this, but she’s so grateful for it,” Norris says. “She has three children to feed, and when you are a parent, you don’t have any choice.” This is a time for everyone to pitch in, adds Norris, who has three grown children: “Hopefully, one day I will have grandkids, and when they ask what I did during the pandemic, I honestly want to be able to say I did everything I can to help others.”

Photo by Heartlove Photography

Maura Moore

When Maura Moore isn’t teaching English to her students at Takoma Park Middle School, she’s often crocheting for them. The Crofton mother of three makes small crocheted balls with two shiny black eyes that fit in the palm of a hand, and gives them to students as a form of recognition. She’s handed out hundreds of the beloved “meeps”—one of her students named them—which are fun and comforting to hold. “Everyone has something worthy of being praised,” she says. “Some people don’t realize that about themselves, and I want them to have that moment where someone sees them.” Even with county school buildings closed, she’s continued naming a “Meep of the Week” in each of her six classes. “Right now it’s hard to feel connected to people because you can’t be with them,” she says. “You can send them this little thing that lets them know even though I can’t be with you, I care about you.” Moore mails the meeps to her students, along with a personal note complimenting them for anything from having a good attitude to using imagery in their writing. “It’s brought so much to my life, in school and out of school,” says Moore, who often sees students with their meeps nearby or flashing them on camera during class. “I will keep making them as long as people keep wanting them.”

Northwest High School student Amberlee Hsu’s letter. Courtesy photo

Robert Youngblood

When Northwest High School art teacher Robert Youngblood was on a Zoom with his students and heard them talk about how “bummed” they were to be taking classes from home, he realized they needed something to shift their focus. “This is a new way of teaching, and it’s a new way of learning for these kids,” he says. In October, the popular track and chess team coach came up with an idea: He asked the 125 students in his five art classes to send a “letter from the heart” to someone they love, and to decorate the border. Most of his students had never written an actual letter, he says, and he wanted them to imagine how much their words could mean to the recipient. He arranged for students to pick up the art supplies and stamped envelopes outside at the Germantown school, where he’s taught for 20 years. Some kids wrote in Farsi to relatives overseas; others expressed gratitude to their parents at home. Several sent their letters to Youngblood himself. I’ve never told you this, one student wrote. You are like a father figure to me, I don’t have a dad. I don’t have a big brother. The letters included intricate borders sketched or painted with designs of flowers and sea creatures. Students were excited to share the responses—one teen showed his class a letter from his grandmother that he’d posted on his wall. “I knew they would buy into it,” Youngblood says. “It was a lesson about life and love.”